April 6, 2012

Five Things Learned from Naila Bolus

The President and CEO of Jumpstart on student potential, opportunity, and a commitment to teaching and learning

Naila Bolus, President and CEO of Jumpstart, a national early education organization, reflects on her role as an educator and a parent, and the lessons motivating her still.

Great potential exists in every child… But these days a simple zip code can determine whether a child succeeds or fails. That is fundamentally wrong and unacceptable.

Learning lasts a lifetime. We need to engage children with intention to create rich and meaningful learning opportunities for them. But we also need to commit to continuous improvement for ourselves, to build new knowledge and skills, take risks and learn from our mistakes. Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous advice, “Do one thing every day that scares you,” has motivated me to tackle new subjects, change jobs, complete a triathlon, become a parent.

Connection is everything. Even with all the great technological advances in our world, there is nothing as powerful as the personal connection between people. It gets more and more challenging to make profound connections as the pace and complexity of life increase. But as a mother of three young girls, and as the CEO of an organization focused on educating young children, I know that the adult-child connection—whether through reading, playing, talking, or cuddling—is an essential ingredient for learning.

Transformation requires determination. Big, bold visions are inspiring. They are also possible. We are surrounded by examples of groundbreaking achievement in combating disease, alleviating poverty, revolutionizing technology, and more. The common thread in these accomplishments is a relentless commitment to mission...We must pursue our goals with focus and drive, and stay dissatisfied until that day arrives.

Without joy, our work loses meaning. Let’s face it, what we’re trying to do is hard…But if we embrace our passion to make a difference in children’s lives, approach our work with energy and optimism, find opportunities to laugh with one another, and bring a playful spirit to help children cultivate a love of learning, then we are doing more than just working for a cause.

The numbers will surprise you. In low-income communities, as many as 50% of children entering school are as much as two years behind their more affluent peers. That’s like showing up to a race that’s already been started, being expected to run the course anyway, but finding out that the racers ahead of you are all on mopeds.

Which is to say, those children who start behind, stay behind…with the resulting achievement gap growing wider throughout their lives and affecting not just their elementary and secondary education experiences, but their prospects for finishing high school, landing a job, and so much more. And the cycle perpetuates itself.

Jumpstart is responding to this incredible challenge in early childhood education by helping underserved children develop the language and literacy skills they need to be ready for and ultimately successful in school. In nearly twenty years, the organization has trained as many as 25,000 college students and community volunteers nationwide to deliver its high quality early education curriculum to preschool children in low-income neighborhoods, reaching more than 100,000 kids in the process.

Conscious of the fact that parents and families are a child’s first teachers, Jumpstart also has resources for use in the home that will help prepare preschool-aged children for kindergarten. They’re worth a gander.

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