Spotlight: Jumpstart

This summer I’ve spent quite a bit of time visiting with my family in Connecticut. These kinds of trips to my hometown inevitably make me nostalgic; side effects include stuffing myself with home-cooked meals and watching more Disney movies than I care to admit. I was even inspired to do a throwback-drive-through of my old high school.

However, if I kept driving a bit farther into a neighboring district, what I encounter would be vastly different. Compared to the state high school graduation rate of over 90%, school districts in Connecticut’s poorest cities face graduation rates hovering just above 50% – a pretty stark contrast for a twenty-minute drive. This example is only one part of a larger national pattern, most often termed the achievement gap.

Jumpstart, a national supplemental preschool program, believes that part of the solution is to tackle this gap early on. Research agrees, as studies have shown that preschool can have long-term effects on learning. By the time they start kindergarten, children in low-income neighborhoods may already be behind their peers, a gap that widens over time.

Jumpstart

The Jumpstart model combines volunteers, largely consisting of college students, and preschool classrooms to create an optimal learning environment. With activities like reading and “circle time,” the program aims to not only promote development in children but also to encourage a sense of community.

Just following its 20th anniversary, Jumpstart has come a long way since its New Haven origins in 1993. Today, the organization also heads numerous national campaigns to celebrate a love of reading and to advocate the importance of early education.

The achievement gap in the U.S. is one of the most prominent issues in education today. Although research indicators often focus on later statistics, such as high school graduation rates or SAT scores, the fight to close the gap can start much earlier. And so far, Jumpstart has been at the front lines of this battle.

 

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

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Spotlight: Health Leads

By now, most of us have come to expect visits to the doctor to follow the same standard set of steps: you check in, sit in the waiting room, flip through People Magazine (or maybe The Economist if even sick-you is a smartypants), see the doctor for a diagnosis, take your medication prescriptions to a pharmacy, and voila, you’re on your way to getting better!

Growing up in a suburb of Connecticut, my experiences with the doctor’s office were pretty formulaic. The concept seemed simple: I was sick. I needed the doctor to give me medication, and then I would be well again. And for me, this really was, more or less, always the case. However, for millions of people in the United States, getting healthy and staying healthy is not so straightforward.

We tend to think of health as pure biology: cells, tissues, organs. Then, improving health must be a scientific endeavor. But this is a myopic view that doesn’t consider other root causes of illness. For many urban, low-income populations, bodily symptoms may only be at the surface of deeper issues. Patients who consistently have poor health often struggle with food, unsafe housing conditions, and limited or no access to a primary care physician.

Health Leads, formerly known as Project Health, seeks to address these issues by taking a more holistic approach to healthcare. In hospitals that have incorporated Health Leads, doctors may prescribe more than just your average penicillin. Healthcare providers also screen patients for basic needs, such as food or shelter, and fill a prescription, just as they would for medication. Health Leads volunteers then take over to help connect these patients to resources that can address both immediate needs and implement long-term solutions.

HealthLeads

Already established in cities like New York, Baltimore, and Chicago, Health Leads and its impact may extend beyond the clinic. The organization has generated national attention, including a shout-out from Michelle Obama to founder Rebecca Onie, as it advocates a novel approach to healthcare delivery. Health Leads seeks to combat the challenges low-income patients face outside the walls of the doctor’s office. As Onie puts it in her recent TEDMED talk: “If we know what it takes to have a healthcare system rather than a sick-care system, why don’t we just do it?”

 

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.