Paths to Opportunity Start Early

by Lena Zwarensteyn   •  

Opportunity Nation is proud of its diverse multi-sector coalition, which is committed to expanding opportunity and economic mobility for all Americans. In the weeks and months ahead, coalition organizations will be featured here on our blog to showcase the impact they make every day and highlight why they are a part of this campaign. Below you can learn more about the work of our partner Jumpstart, whose innovative work aims to close the achievement gap among young children.

For too many young children, the neighborhood in which they live remains too great a predictor for their future success. Indeed, children in low-income neighborhoods start kindergarten 60% behind their wealthier peers. With 1 in 3 children in America entering kindergarten without the skills they need to be successful, the achievement gap begins well before children even enter kindergarten. This gap only continues to widen as children advance through school and life.

Paths to opportunity start early, and so too must the work of Opportunity Nation. This is precisely why Jumpstart enthusiastically joined the Opportunity Nation coalition when it was first created. Jumpstart and Opportunity Nation know that preventing the achievement gap is crucial to providing all Americans with real opportunity. Children who complete quality early childhood education programs consistently do better in school academically and are less likely to dropout, be arrested, repeat grades, or require special education. High-quality early childhood education and experiences make a difference: they raise the quality of the workforce, enhance the productivity of schools and reduce crime, teenage pregnancy, and public assistance dependency.

I am lucky to work with incredible staff, Jumpstart Corps members, volunteers and supporters who are commited to working toward the day every child in America enters school prepared to succeed. During the course of the school year, Jumpstart recruits and trains college students and community volunteers, known as Jumpstart Corps members, to serve young children in low-income neighborhoods. One of the largest part-time AmeriCorps programs, Jumpstart leverages this public-private partnership to serve in Head Start, faith-based, and community-based centers in historically under-resourced neighborhoods. Jumpstart Corps members spend more than 10 hours every week delivering an incredibly intentional curriculum, which targets the key language and literacy skills that research demonstrates are necessary for young children to be successful in kindergarten and beyond. The results these Corps members help young children achieve is considerable and real. The majority of children who participate in Jumpstart’s program demonstrate gains of one developmental level or more, indicating a significant increase in key school readiness skills. Jumpstart’s results-driven program boosts access to high-quality programming, provides young children with more caring adults in their lives, and engages Jumpstart Corps members in service that makes a difference in their own lives as well.

Since 1993, more than 25,000 Jumpstart Corps members have served more than 100,000 young children. This year alone, Jumpstart Corps members will be serving more than one million hours in low-income neighborhoods in 14 states and the District of Columbia.

While these numbers are impressive and the Jumpstart staff, Corps members and supporters tirelessly dedicate themselves to work on behalf of the mission, everyone knows that there are far too many children that Jumpstart and other high-quality early childhood education programming do not reach. And thus, for too many children, the path to achievement and opportunity is out of reach.

Partnering with Opportunity Nation, however, allows organizations like Jumpstart that have expertise in one area to discuss – and act – with other organizations who are working to ultimately restore the American Dream to all Americans. Each Opportunity Nation coalition member works to help uncover opportunities for Americans, and the value and lessons each of these organizations lends to the coalition is precisely what makes Opportunity Nation unique. There is no one solution that provides opportunity, but rather a series of experiences, policies, and other methods by which opportunity can become reachable for everyone. At a time when much of the political debate revolves around jobs, more time should be devoted to thinking holistically about opportunity, reinvigorating the American Dream, and aligning effective programs and policies that provide opportunities to all Americans throughout the course of their lives.

Learn more about Jumpstart at Also, help Jumpstart make the call to end the achievement gap by participating in Jumpstart’s Read for the Record on October 6. Visit for more information.

  1. Before even entering kindergarten, the average cognitive scores of children in the lowest socio-economic status (SES) group are 60% behind the scores of the highest SES group. Lee, V. E., & Burkham, D. T. (2002). Inequality at the Starting Gate: Social Background Differences in Achievement as Children Begin School. Washington, D.C.: Economic Policy Institute.
  2. As of 2009, there were 25 million children under age six in the United States, and 6.1 million (24%) were living in poverty. Chau, M., Thampi, K., & Wight, V.R. (October 2010). Basic Facts About Low-income Children, 2009, Children Under Age 6. New York: National Center for Children in Poverty.
  3. Heckman, J. (2004). “Working Paper No. 5.” Invest in Kids Working Group.
Lena Zwarensteyn

Senior Director of Government Relations, Jumpstart

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