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Posts tagged ‘ECEI’

A Transformational Trip to Israel

By Janet Harris, Director, Early Childhood Education Initiative

Last month, I had the pleasure of participating in a ten-day study tour of Israel with a group of Jewish resource specialists from five Bay Area preschools. The purpose of the trip was to deepen our relationship, as teachers and Jews, with Israel through getting to know early childhood educators and social entrepreneurs, as well as to explore the land and places we have learned about in the Torah.

We walked through the narrow paths of the Old City of Jerusalem, hiked in the nature preserve of Neot Kedumim, and toured preschools and kindergartens, getting to know their teachers on a first-name basis. Our PJ Library counterpart, the director of Sifriyat Pijama, also helped us see how the PJ Library comes to life in Israeli classrooms.

Janet (second from left) and fellow educators in Israel

Highlights

A highlight of the trip was the opportunity to visit JCF-funded projects in Galil and gain a real understanding of the work we do in the country.  Barak Lazoon, our intrepid leader and JCF representative in Israel, took us to the Druze Village of Kisrae-Samea where we visited Early Childhood programs along with the staff of Echad.

One of the projects that JCF has funded was the construction of a beautiful ECE center with wrap-around services (speech therapists, physical therapists, social workers, nurses, etc.) for parents with young children. The impact of this center on the community has been profound. Children are receiving services for special needs, as well as what we consider to be basic developmentally screening. There are language enhancement programs, support groups for parents, and a beautiful play area for families to enjoy.

Children playing at the ECE center

We also had a private audience with a Druze sheikh – a first for us all. We learned that the Druze hold prayer services only twice a week, unlike the Jewish halachic commandment to pray three times a day, or the Muslim commandment of praying five times a day. He assured us that the Druze were “very lucky” because of that!

Reflections

This trip was eye-opening and transformational for me, and my fellow participants have expressed similar sentiments:

 “For me the excitement began as soon as the land of Israel came in site from the airplane window. Like so many people say, ’it’s like coming home.’ This was not a group trip where a guide toured you through the country giving you historical facts. It was an incredible experience where passionate Israeli citizens embraced us in ways that are indescribable. I am so energized to the potential and possibilities of ways I can bring Israel alive to my colleagues and the children and families that I work with. And I have the desire to return to a place where I only began on what I know is a new personal and professional journey.” – Betsy Surtshin, Teacher, Osher Marin Jewish Community Center ECE program

Educators doing some learning of their own

 “I love spending time in Israel, however, this trip was different. I have never seen Israel through the lens of a Jewish early childhood educator. I was amazed at how the children were viewed, considered, and honored. I have been struggling with this epiphany since my return, trying to figure out how I can make sure that the children in my care are guaranteed this same level of respect and dignity.  There is a collective story that is Israel; it is both historical and cultural, and this story is a unifying and identify-creating narrative. It is my responsibility to share this epiphany and find like-minded educators, leaders, and parents that want to help me fill the space our children are engaged in. I want to create a richness that is as sustaining and sweet as the milk and honey that flows in the ideal that is Israel.” – Adam Lowy, Jewish Resource Specialist and Teacher, Congregation Emanu-El of San Francisco

We would all like to express a hearty todah rabah, or thank you, to the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund of San Francisco for funding this trip. The children will reap the benefit of this amazing journey!

The Early Childhood Education Initiative (ECEI) focuses on engaging more Bay Area Jewish families with young children in meaningful Jewish life and community. The ECEI was launched in 2007 in response to the 2006 JESNA study which highlighted the importance of Early Childhood Jewish Education as a gateway for family engagement.

For more information, contact Janet Harris, Director of ECEI, at 415.499.1223, extension 8104.

Addressing Two Fundamental Challenges Facing the Jewish Community – Affordability and Access

As part of a multi-year effort to address two fundamental challenges facing the Jewish community – affordability and access, our Federation is rolling out the first of its major initiatives for 2012: Reducing Barriers and Increasing Access to Jewish Life.

Tackling affordability, early childhood education and special needs

The goal is to make at least $1 million available for need-based scholarships, and provide an additional $500,000 in grants to support early childhood education, and programs to help ensure a welcoming and inclusive community for children with special needs and their families.  We’re one of a number of non-profits in the region working to keep families rooted to the Bay Area by maintaining access to quality education and enrichment activities, despite the high cost of living.

“We’re working to ensure that participating in Jewish life does not become a luxury out of reach for Bay Area families,” said Laura Mason, the Federation Senior Program Officer who is heading up this initiative.  “People are struggling to make ends meet, and our partner organizations report that requests for financial aid continue to increase.”

“For us, the connection to Jewish Life is a priority, but we know we are actually one of many organizations responding to an increase in the need for financial assistance,” said Jennifer Gorovitz, the Federation’s CEO. “As is the case with so many pressing issues, it will take a coalition of organizations to help bridge these resource gaps.”

There are three program areas within the initiative to Reduce Barriers and Increase Access to Jewish Life:

  1. The Affordability Project.  With membership costs, tuition and program fees that reach into the many thousands each year, more than half of all households in the Bay Area don’t earn enough money to participate fully in organized Jewish community.  The Federation, with the support of individual and foundation donors, including the Jim Joseph Foundation, will be awarding 6,000 scholarships to families in need, helping to ensure a community that is vibrant and accessible to all.
  1. Early Childhood Education (ECE).  The Early Childhood Education program area will focus on increasing access to a high quality Jewish preschool for all families.  The program will work to advance the field on major issues such as teacher compensation and rigorous standards of excellence, while encouraging meaningful lifelong connections to Judaism for children and families.
  1. Special Needs.  There are approximately 9,000 Jewish children under the age of 18 in the Bay Area who have special needs. Many of these children and their families cannot participate in Jewish life, including attending day school, camp, synagogue and other family programs because these environments have lacked the supports they need to serve these children.  The Federation’s initiative is helping to build the capacity of the entire community to be inclusive by funding professional training for Jewish educators, expert consultation in early childhood education, high quality camping experiences, and effective social enrichment activities for children, teens, families, and friends.

To advance this work, we will convene a series of events in the coming year

Stakeholders and donors will share information on strategies and preliminary goals and gather input from the community. The first of these events is May 24, 2012 and will focus on early childhood education, inviting education professionals from the entire region to a half-day event, culminating in a panel discussion with experts in early childhood development, educator compensation and philanthropy.

Household budgets stretched in Bay Area

Recent reports tracking economic indicators for the Bay Area and Silicon Valley indicate that while certain sectors of the economy have seen improvement, median household incomes continue to shrink.[i] At the same time, the Bay Area is the third most expensive place to live in the US[ii], with housing expenses absorbing the lion’s share of earnings. This continual decline in household income has meant that many of the 130,000 Jewish households cannot participate in Jewish life the way they want to.  Reducing financial barriers is critical to maintaining a robust Jewish community in the Bay Area.

“So much of being Jewish is our experiences,” said Jennifer Gorovitz. “Our work is intended to make schools, summer camps, and synagogues more accessible…these are the places where great connections are made, and it is those memories that help sustain us…one Jewish generation to the next.”

[1] Silicon Valley Index 2012

[2] Bay Area Council Economic Institute, “Bay Area Economic Profile March 2012


Reflections from an Early Childhood Jewish Educator

Hard to believe, but November has arrived, and with the end of year in sight, the staff at the Early Childhood Education Initiative decided it would be a great idea to share a personal story from one of our programs. Here is some insight from one Early Childhood Jewish Educator who is currently enrolled in the second cohort of the Certificate in Jewish Early Childhood Education through Gratz College program. We are grateful to Gratz student Emma Schnur, who so graciously agreed to share some of her experiences with us.

By Emma Schnur

I like to think that I was destined to be an Early Childhood Educator. When I was a child and had days off from school, I would go with my mother to her preschool classroom. I was delighted whenever I was asked to cut out shapes for projects, take out manipulatives or simply sit with the children during circle time. Those were the days that I greatly looked forward to, and from that young age, I knew I was meant to work in the field of Early Childhood Education.

I received my BA in psychology with a minor in Education from the University of California at Davis. Since graduation I began working at Gan Avraham, the preschool program at Temple Beth Abraham. I spent the year working primarily in the two year old program, and I was thrilled to finally be able to work in a classroom of my very own. During the year, I worked alongside two experienced co-teachers and learned a great deal about being a teacher and my own educational values. Through this experience, I quickly realized that I wanted to formalize my education and learn as much as I could about this ever changing field.

The Gratz experience has been extremely enlightening for me in the several months I have been in the program. I have been able to involve myself in a group of teachers where I can discuss my perceptions, questions and hesitations, and learn through listening to other educators who deeply care about their work. The curriculum has enabled me to reflect on my own ideals about Jewish education and to understand how to maintain my Jewish values and infuse them into everyday activities.

Recently, the Gratz cohort went on a retreat to Green Gulch Farm. In this incredibly beautiful environment, we were asked to look at the tremendous natural beauty around us and hone in on the details. We were asked to step away from our usual perceptions as teachers and consider the viewpoints of children. Though it may have been completely new territory for some of us, we were asked to simply notice—notice how we act in the classroom and notice what our students are interested in.

This program has given me the tools to recognize how my attitude and ideas greatly impact the children, and the teachers within the cohort have inspired me to become more reflective in my classroom. I am grateful for the opportunity to be involved in the program, and am highly anticipating the learning yet to come.

LEARN MORE

From preschool teachers to Jewish educators

“When I started the Gratz program, I thought of myself as a preschool teacher. Now I think of myself as a Jewish Educator.”Amanda Mahan

In another Bay Area first, after two years of rigorous coursework and seminars, a cohort of 11 teachers from Jewish preschools in the Bay Area are receiving their certificates in the Gratz College Certificate in Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative (ECEI) program. The teachers are celebrating their achievements at a graduation event, known as a siyyum at the Contemporary Jewish Museum on September 22.

The graduates represent eight Jewish preschools in the Bay Area. Their studies have included Jewish Thought, Bible, and Spirituality, along with special subjects in Early Childhood Education. Each class integrates both Jewish and Early Childhood Education so that the curriculum is seamlessly integrated for optimum learning by the children.

The goal of the program is to deepen the Jewish curriculum at the preschools within the framework of excellence in Early Childhood Education.

The teachers have seen big changes in their classrooms. One of our graduates stated: “My classroom reflects Jewish life in a very authentic and deep way, and is almost unrecognizable from when I began my studies at Gratz two years ago. I have a wealth of knowledge that I can now share with children and their parents.”

The featured speaker, Dr. Debbie Findling of the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, will address the students and acknowledge them for their devotion to Jewish Education, and the Bay Area Jewish community. The graduates and their families, along with community leaders, will share the fruits of their learning through exhibits that reflect their work in their particular school.

Sponsored by The Early Childhood Education Initiative of the JCF , the program has brought the teachers together monthly to participate in a Community of Practice, as well as to attend one and two-day retreats over the two years. The face-to-face aspect of the program, which has proven to be invaluable to its success, has been funded by the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, and facilitated by Ellen Brosbe, the Early Childhood Education specialist at the Bureau of Jewish Education. The generous scholarships for the students were provided by the Jewish Community Endowment Fund of the JCF.

The second cohort of the Gratz program begins in September 2011.

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