COLUMBIA - Even though Columbia Public Schools pre-kindergarten and elementary students have returned to in-person learning, not all children may be going back to the classroom. 

Jumpstart at Mizzou, a program run through the University of Missouri Career Center, will continue to offer virtual Pre-K instruction through the fall semester, even as CPS, one of their partner agencies, opens back up. 

"CPS going back is quite a change for them and their educators and their children and families," Jumpstart program director Chrissie Dickson said. "Layering in another group coming in from the outside, we wanted to be sensitive and respectful to not adding more on their plate."

Under normal circumstances, Jumpstart trains MU students to lead classroom settings of preschool children and enables them to participate in after-school programs, such as CPS, the MU Family Impact Center and Turn the Page Child Development Center.

Under COVID, Jumpstart is instead offering virtual preschool tutoring. 

The virtual tutoring sessions are roughly 30 minutes, twice weekly, and are conducted by two Jumpstart tutors: the first for the actual tutoring and the second to assist the first. Lessons are 'disguised' as games for the child. 

"Jumpstart tutors have been trained to sneak in those academic pieces," Dickson said. 

In light of no longer being tied to a physical location, Dickson said Jumpstart is trying to expand services beyond Columbia and mentioned clients located in Hallsville and Ashland. 

"In this remote world, we're targeting families in the whole state of Missouri," she said. 

Dickson said she hopes Jumpstart can provide a valuable service to families who may be uncomfortable sending their children back to an in-person learning environment.  

"Each family is different," she said. "If you've opted out of having your child in an in-person school setting, whether that's due to your personal safety concerns or whatever that reason might be, families are struggling to find quality educational opportunities. 

Madison Wepking has been a Jumpstart tutor for four years. She explained that since tutors can't be physically in the same room as students, they can utilize props and words to assist in learning.

For example, she would ask a child to describe the feeling of cotton balls to promote a child's language ability. 

"We talk about cotton balls being soft on our face," she explained. "And we ask, 'How do you think it feels?' A lot of them will answer like 'It's white like a cloud!"'

This allows tutors to segway into what the child thinks a cloud might feel like. 

"It is our hope that in the spring, the pandemic might be in a safer place," Dickson said. 

Wepking agreed.

"Fingers crossed so much," she said. "The ideal world, if it could be normal, I hope that we can go back in the spring. But if not, this is what it is right now and we've made it work to where we can touch some of the kids' lives. 

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