Undergraduate Academic Affairs

June 10, 2021

Pandemic pivot to jump into literacy

Kylee-Ann Tawara

“What’s next, what’s next!” exclaimed Yuna as she jumped up and down in her seat. My heart filled with joy as I saw the story unfold on her face.

Photo of Kylee-Ann Tawara

Kylee-Ann Tawara in the Quad, pre-pandemic. // Photo courtesy of Kylee-Ann Tawara.

I thought back to the beginning of the year. It was 2018, my first year at the University of Washington and my first year serving at the Denise Louie Education Center in South Seattle as one of five Jumpstart Corps members whose jobs are to help kids be kindergarten ready. In the fall, I met Yuna as the most energetic preschool kiddo … who seemed to be disinterested in books. But in our last few months of teaching, I got to see her new excitement to learn and read new books.

The next year, I transitioned into Jumpstart’s volunteer coordinator role where I administered the end-of-year literacy tests. When I tested Yuna, she passed with flying colors! Not only did she understand vocabulary at a kindergarten reading level, she had confidence in her knowledge. I saw that a seed of excitement to learn took root in her and shaped her to grow as an eager student. Yuna had a strong preschool education foundation and was now ready to succeed in kindergarten.

Teaching as an AmeriCorps member in the classroom fueled my enthusiasm about Jumpstart’s mission and desire to share the work we do. When I was introduced to the volunteer coordinator role, I saw that it combined my passion for serving children with what I hoped to do: Engage college students and build relationships with community members to help young children learn and grow. Events like card making for Seattle Children’s Hospital patients, STEM activities at Seattle Children’s Museum, serving meals with Youth Care and Read for the Record focused on serving kiddos through promoting early childhood education and development. However, the COVID-19 pandemic brought changes to our programming.

Many of the families we serve in Jumpstart qualify for free or reduced lunch. This group also often has many barriers that make access to high quality education much more difficult than those from more affluent and privileged backgrounds, an inequity that some may argue starts as early as in the womb and can have long term impacts.

The kindergarten readiness gap between children from lower income families and children from higher income families shows that children face disadvantages in their education at an early age. The burden of these inequities is more often shouldered by communities of color.

In Jumpstart, we see firsthand how academic opportunity and performance are impacted by racial disparities. This opportunity gap grows exponentially over time and leads to students falling behind in elementary, middle and eventually high school. But study after study has highlighted how quality early childhood education can interrupt that trajectory for the better. Jumpstart’s curriculum specifically focuses on literacy and socioemotional skills because those skills are shown to impact preschoolers’ future school success across all subjects. Knowing that, we remained dedicated throughout the pandemic to making sure our preschoolers were given the opportunity to succeed and build key literacy skills. The new question was how?

Check out Jumpstart’s work from this year in the virtual showcase for the Community Engagement and Leadership Education (CELE) Center.

Before the pandemic, our work mainly involved community outreach. But, COVID-19 prevention precautions meant that many community organizations weren’t hosting volunteers, and even if they were, we were taking every precaution we could to avoid community spread, especially since COVID-19 disproportionately affects the very community we aim to serve.

As volunteer coordinators, we adapted to changes and broadened our outreach to include preschool families. We partnered with our preschool family advocates and educators to learn about our preschool families’ needs, and how we can meet them. We held virtual events such as our annual Read for the Record, planned and packaged 250 learning kits and safely dropped them off to the families in Seattle’s International District all the way to Highline. During Read for the Record, I loved seeing the creativity of the postcards that kiddos made. My heart was warmed watching how proud they were of their work. I loved watching kiddos learn to juggle at our Spring Literacy Celebration.

Photo on left of reading circle among preschool studnets. Photo on right of undergraduates preparing activity kits outside during the pandemic.

What Jumpstart looked like pre-pandemic, left, and how corps members’ work shifted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Left: A Jumpstart corps member reads a story to preschoolers. Right: Jumpstart corps members follow COVID-19 safety precautions to assemble Earth Day activity kits. // Photos courtesy of Jumpstart

We planned and held a COVID-19 vaccine forum with pediatric residents from Seattle Children’s Hospital for our preschool families to learn more about the vaccine and discuss their concerns and questions. I felt proud hearing from a COVID-19 vaccine forum attendee who said: “I enjoyed that it gave those who are unfamiliar with the vaccine and the medical field in general a place to go where they could ask questions or start up a conversation about the vaccine.”

Image of virtual storytime fliers in Vietnamese, Spanish, Chinese and English

“Accessibility is key, so for all of our family outreach, we provide information in the four most commonly spoken languages of our preschool families.” Jumpstart corps members translate the materials into Vietnamese, Spanish and Chinese. // Fliers courtesy of Kylee-Ann Tawara

Seeing the pride in Yuna’s eyes as we read Elisa Kleven’s “The Lion and the Little Red Bird” showed me firsthand the power of early intervention. Knowing I played a small part in shaping Yuna’s trajectory fills me with pride, and has deepened my belief in the importance of early intervention.

Photo of Kylee-Ann Tawara in medical scrubs in Honduras

Kylee-Ann Tawara in 2019 on a medical brigade to Honduras.

I’m majoring in public health, and the reason I’m drawn to it is that, like Jumpstart, it focuses on upstream interventions to improve population health. Pediatrics is especially meaningful to me after my work in Jumpstart because of the impact health education at a young age can have on future adult health outcomes. As a future pediatrician, I will bring what I learned about the cycle of poverty and the importance of intervening early through early childhood education to improve future health incomes to my work. I will be dedicated to serving my communities with compassion, equity and the belief in each patient’s ability to thrive.

About Jumpstart

Jumpstart is a leading national nonprofit organization working toward the day every child in America enters kindergarten prepared to succeed. Jumpstart at the University of Washington was launched in September of 2003 as a collaborative effort between Undergraduate Academic Affairs, the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity, the College of Education, and the Work Study Office. Since 2003, UW undergraduates have worked with Seattle preschool children through the Jumpstart program.

Kylee-Ann Tawara is majoring in public health-global health. She’s completing her third year at the University of Washington and in Jumpstart.