Valley Voices

Valley students depend on AmeriCorps, Jumpstart funding

Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro meets with students who are participants in Jumpstart on campuls
Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro meets with students who are participants in Jumpstart on campuls

Political and community leaders in California and across the nation are clear about the need for stronger workforce development to grow our economy and create good new jobs. In fact, in his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Trump explicitly called for investment in workforce development and on-the-job-training programs to meet the needs of the U.S. economy.

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Joseph I. Castro ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

We were surprised to learn, then, that two established programs delivering real results for our national workforce – AmeriCorps and Federal Work Study – are once again on the chopping block for federal funds in Trump’s budget proposal.

Finding ways to enrich college students’ academic experiences increases their likelihood of success after graduation, especially for students who historically have had access to fewer opportunities than their more affluent peers. Programs like AmeriCorps and Federal Work Study facilitate real-world training opportunities that enable college students to enter the workforce prepared to succeed after graduation.

Federal Work Study allows students with financial need to work in community-based organizations, training for careers in public service and education, among others. AmeriCorps programs on college campuses also provide opportunities for students to participate in service programs alongside their academic work.

One example of a program offering real-world experiences while also making a real impact in the community is Jumpstart, a national early education nonprofit that provides college students with the training and tools to deliver high-quality language, literacy, and social-emotional programming in preschool classrooms in under-resourced communities.

In Fresno County, 47 percent of children live in poverty, and many will enter kindergarten at a disadvantage; in low-income neighborhoods, children start kindergarten 60 percent behind their peers from more affluent communities.

As an AmeriCorps and work-study program at Fresno State, Jumpstart trains and places college students in preschool classrooms to prepare early learners to thrive in kindergarten. Through Jumpstart, Fresno State students not only help to close opportunity gaps for young children but also gain invaluable real-world experiences during their 300 service hours in preschool classrooms.

Fresno State alumnus Jennifer Vang says that while serving with Jumpstart, she learned “how to be a professional,” and developed key organizational and time management skills — skills she now uses every day in her career as a second-grade teacher in Fresno County.

In addition to preparing students for high-demand careers, AmeriCorps and Federal Work Study make college more affordable for first-generation college students from low-income families. At Fresno State, 83 percent of Jumpstart Corps members are the first in their family to go to college, and 90 percent are using work-study to help pay for college.

Federal Work Study is critical to many student’s financial aid packages, defraying tuition, books, and housing costs. And many students, like Vang, use their work-study opportunity to gain direct experience in their fields of study, making college both more affordable and directly related to future careers.

AmeriCorps often works hand-in-hand with Federal Work Study, providing students who complete a year of AmeriCorps service with an education award to pay down their student loans or to complete their postsecondary (or graduate) degree.

These programs represent a win-win for students and communities: they lower students’ overall debt burden, increase access to higher education, and provide work experience that also benefits the local community.

We believe deeply in the need to invest in programs that not only serve college students, but also the children and families who live in our communities.

While President Trump’s recent budget proposal slashes funding for Federal Work Study and AmeriCorps – programs that work for our students – we are encouraged that Congressional leaders have recognized the value of these programs in the fiscal year 2018 funding package approved last week.

The time is now, however, to contact your senators and representatives to thank them for the investment this year and ensure they deepen those investments even further in the fiscal year 2019 budget as a down payment for the future.

Joseph I. Castro is president of Fresno State and a member of Jumpstart’s National Board of Directors. Connect with him at presidentjic@csufresno.edu. Naila Bolus of Boston, Massachusetts, is CEO and president of Jumpstart, a national early education nonprofit. Connect with her at jstart.org.

How to help

Contact your senators and representatives to let them know your thoughts about funding AmeriCorps and Federal Work Study. Find them and their contact information at whoismyrepresentative.com.

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