For some industrious Cougars, summer vacation is a time to get their feet wet in the working world as interns. As the dog days of summer approach, The College Today will showcase a few of our students’ adventures in various internships across the country.

Education is the great equalizer – or at least it’s supposed to be. But that’s assuming we all start from the same point, with the same opportunities and resources so that we’re ready, willing and able to learn.

Unfortunately, the playing field of education isn’t an even one, and all too often children get left behind in the classroom. That’s why Thomasena Thomas, a rising junior majoring in political science with a concentration in public policy, was drawn to an internship this summer in Washington, D.C. with the national early education organization Jumpstart. With a mission of helping preschool-age children in low-income neighborhoods get ready for kindergarten, Jumpstart programs can be found in 14 states and Washington, D.C.

The College Today caught up with Thomas, who is serving as a Jumpstart AmeriCorps member, to see what she’s learning about the art of learning, and why she thinks developing strong policies for early childhood education matters.

Thomasena Thomas at the Jumpstart offices in Washington, D.C. (Photos provided)

Why was this  internship of interest to you?

I learned about Jumpstart through Teach For America (TFA). I attended TFA’s Rise Student Leadership Conference in Chicago back in April and they recommended applying for Jumpstart. This internship is of interest to me because of the focus. Jumpstart is focused on creating a curriculum that is implemented in preschools to help students get into kindergarten. Early childhood education is crucial for every child’s success. It is a defining factor if a child is able to succeed.

What are the duties of your internship?

Jumpstart is a program that falls under AmeriCorps. At Jumpstart, my duties include serving in classrooms throughout the D.C. area and working with the teachers to provide high quality education and a lower adult-to-child ratio within the classroom. I also get to work alongside like-minded peers, while receiving high-quality training in early childhood development and education, and gaining invaluable hands-on experience in the classroom.

What do you like most about this internship?

It allows me to get the grassroots experience in the community as well as in the classroom on an issue I am passionate about. It also gives me the opportunity to explore the education policy side of D.C. by attending events sponsored by lawmakers and organizations focused on implementing and reforming the education system. I am able to grow my knowledge of education policy as well as get actual experience in the classroom. It’s amazing to be able to receive both experiences at once.

How have you grown as a result of this experience?

I have really grown as an advocate. I work in the one of the poorest neighborhoods in Washington, D.C., but on Wednesdays I work downtown in the heart of D.C. at the Jumpstart office. The change in environments is drastic. It is disheartening to see that so many people are unaware of the communities that are suffering right in their own backyards. Although I have been afforded wonderful opportunities to attend events on Capitol Hill and network with some top organizations and people in the field of education, I am still reminded of the students I work with each and every day who may never have that opportunity. I am not going to be ignorant of the community I am serving this summer and will try my best to affect change in both areas and try to advocate and bring forth the problems I have been noticing from working with this program.

How has this experience helped you move toward your long-term career goals?

My ultimate goal is to advance in academia and become a superintendent or secretary of schools or potentially president of an organization that is focused on the advancement of students through career and technology education programs. Jumpstart has given me classroom experience as well as a network of educators and policy makers that I can seek advice from in the future. D.C. is the place to be to grow in knowledge of any specific policy related issue. The knowledge and hands on experience I am gaining here is setting me up to pursue my future goals.