COVID-19 is keeping preschoolers home, so she reads to them remotely

Lisa Gozbekian, a site member for the Jumpstart branch for Northeastern, reads from a children’s book. Jumpstart distributes reading materials to preschoolers so they aren’t behind when starting kindergarten. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Alone in an empty room, Lisa Gozbekian takes a deep breath, opens her book, and starts to read. 

“‘I’m jumping off the diving board today,’ Jabari told his dad.”

Normally, there would be an audience of excited preschoolers sitting in front of Gozbekian, listening to her read the picture book, “Jabari Jumps” by Gaia Cornwall. Instead, Gozbekian is recording herself reading for a video for Jumpstart, an organization that teaches literacy and social skills to preschoolers from under-resourced communities. The goal is to ensure that every child enters kindergarten on an even playing field.  

When schools closed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, kids and parents had to look elsewhere for education resources, and Gozbekian and Jumpstart have been working to provide it.

Gozbekian is the Northeastern site manager for Jumpstart, so during most of the year, she trains college students to work in preschool classrooms.

Lisa Gozbekian was selected to read “Jabari Jumps” by Gaia Cornwall as part of Jumpstart’s shift to providing online content for preschoolers. Photos by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Students train with Gozbekian, and then go into preschool classrooms twice a week for three hours. The students read books to the preschoolers and conduct related activities, to help the kids learn new words, and process the social and emotional lessons from the book. For example, in “Jabari Jumps,” the illustrations look like collages, so as an activity preschoolers might make a collage and then talk about the scene they created.

But then the pandemic hit. College students left Boston, and preschools no longer met in person. The relationships that students worked so hard to form with kids ended abruptly, and those children no longer had access to Jumpstart’s educational resources.

The organization quickly prepared ways to access content from home, recording Jumpstart staff reading a variety of books in English and Spanish—like Gozbekian’s reading of “Jabari Jumps”—and providing story guides that go over new words and related activities, all for free on the Jumpstart website.

The opportunity to read directly to kids—rather than working with college students—was an important moment for Gozbekian, she says.

“Reading a book that I know is going to be seen and heard by a lot of younger children within the network is really exciting,” Gozbekian says, “Being able to lead a different level of support was really important for me.”

Gozbekian says she appreciates how quickly Jumpstart pivoted to provide curriculum for kids at home.

“I think that is a great way to be able to continue that interest in learning from the preschoolers,” she says. “I think it’s really important and supportive to both the child and the parent or caregiver.”

Gozbekian has also been selected by Jumpstart to record herself reading this year’s Read for the Record book, “Evelyn Del Rey Is Moving Away” by Meg Medina. Read for the Record is an annual event with the goal of getting as many kids and adults to read the same book on the same day, to emphasize the importance of early literacy and access to high-quality books. This year, Read for the Record will take place on Oct. 29.

Gozbekian says early education programs such as Jumpstart are important in order to make sure that kids go into kindergarten prepared to succeed.

“My background is working with older middle school and high school students, but seeing sort of the impact that can happen at that early age of three and four and five, before they enter kindergarten, I’ve seen how much growth can happen and I can really see how that could lend itself to creating a more equitable playing field for all young people,” Gozbekian says.

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