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Gift establishes early-intervention preschool

Every summer morning, dozens of miniature shoes pad through the doors of Longwood Speech, Hearing and Learning Services (SHLS) and take off down the hall.

According to a press release, now a decade old, Camp JumpStart — the 10-day summer literacy program for preschool and kindergarten-age children — provides an invaluable advantage for children in the Southside region. Its success in building literacy skills for the very young in the area has led to several awards and a reputation as a valuable piece of the community.

“Now a $120,000 gift from Carole, ’67, and Rich Kraemer will expand Camp JumpStart to include two 12-13-week sessions, one each during the fall and spring semesters, in addition to the usual four weeks during the summer,” officials said in the release. “The newly-expanded program will be designed to include children with language delays and disorders, whether it’s hearing loss, developmental delays or autism.”

Carole Kraemer, a former language arts teacher, said supporting the project is personal. She has three grandchildren who are approaching their 14th birthday. One of them has difficulties that have made learning a struggle at times.

“I’ve seen my daughter struggle to help my grandson find his footing in the world,” Kraemer said in the release. “He has been helped along the way by support systems — much the same way Camp JumpStart helps the children around Southside Virginia — and that has made all the difference. The earlier you can reach children with these difficulties the better, and there just aren’t a lot of resources for those families across the country. As I learned about Camp JumpStart and the good it’s done over the last decade, I felt really good about supporting it.”

The release cited that since SHLS held the first Camp JumpStart in 2007, more than 80 children have worked with specially trained staff to improve their understanding of the alphabet as well as their writing and speaking skills. JumpStart founder Dr. Peggy Agee, retired associate professor of communication sciences and disorders, received the 2010 Louis M. DiCarlo Clinical Achievement Award from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation (ASHA) for her work with the camp.

“The period in young children’s lives from about age 3 to 5 has been shown to be a critical period of rapid development in early reading and writing skills, which is what makes the Camp JumpStart model so worthy of expansion,” said Dr. Lissa Power-deFur, professor and director of SHLS, in the release. “The skills these children learn lead directly to literacy, a fundamental life skill. With the generous support of Carole Kraemer, we will fill a real area of need in this community and start to give area children, including those with disabilities and developmental delays, the skills they need to hit the ground running when they get to school.”

According to the release, the camp has been a resource for Longwood communication sciences and disorders graduate students as well. Involved from the beginning, the students learn valuable teaching skills under the expert eye of ASHA-certified speech language pathologist, who reviews lesson plans, offers daily notes, demonstrates best teaching methods and evaluates the graduate students.

“We’re not only building a foundation of literacy among area children,” said Power-deFur, “we’re building better teachers and speech language pathologists to send out into the world. It’s a win-win on both sides.”

For Kraemer, that dual benefit makes the project even more worthy of support.

“During my time at Longwood, the majority of students trained to be teachers, as I did,” said Kramer. “The idea of early intervention is something that resonates with us as educators. For children to have a better chance to succeed, they really need a head start. The Camp JumpStart model has proven to be exactly that first step that kids need.”

Project JumpStart will hold its first morning classes this fall.