Learning and Growing – a Picture of the JRS Initiative

Posted on 10/31/2019 @ 01:00 PM

Sandra Blasberg-Imar from the Glen Greenstein Early Childhood Development Center at the Alper JCC, Margie Zeskind of the Temple Beth Sholom Innovative School, Cindy Behar From the Tauber Academy at Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, Joy Schandler of CAJE, Sandra Kopp of Suzy Fischer Early Childhood Academy at Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus. (Not Pictured Mikki Feinberg of The Margaux Early Childhood School at Temple Judea)

In three short months, the Jewish Resource Specialists, their ECE directors, fellow teachers, parents, children and their host organizations are already seeing and feeling the benefits of this three-year pilot program, generously funded by the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.

The ECE directors and the JRSs from the Dave and Mary Alper Jewish Community Center, Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center, Beth Torah Benny Rok Campus, Temple Beth Sholom and Temple Judea are:

  • Hearing their teachers wanting to learn more about Judaism and Jewish practice. They are, as one director expressed, “shifting from auto pilot Jewish education to a more focused and intentional approach.”
  • Getting to know the parents, their preferences for learning and engagement and are creating new engagement opportunities. They are even seeing more families with young children attending and participating in holiday activities hosted by their institutions

The JRSs and the ECE directors are also seeing deeper connections between the ECE programs and their host organizations.  A director described this as a new kind of team building. One JRS noticed how the clergy are very motivated to being even more involved in ECE parent and family engagement and the careful planning process it requires.

In this first quarter of the year, the JRS partners are also aware of the very real challenges inherent in starting the JRS, which is a new approach to engagement in the early childhood setting that requires “all hands on deck.”   

  • We hope that one success of the program will be raising up more teacher leaders, in all aspects of ECE. When teachers are encouraged to grow and share their talents, they can soar to new heights in ways they may not have even imagined.
  • The Jewish Resource Specialist Initiative requires all leadership within the host organizations and the ECEs to understand the fundamental importance of nurturing relationships with ECE families and everyone needs to be open to thinking and doing things differently. If it has not been successful years ago, now is the time to try something else. All of our professionals, in the ECEs and the host organizations, need to be open to visioning anew and trying new ways of engaging.
  • Scheduling time to meet with fellow teachers and their ECE directors is complicated by the fact that most JRSs are also classroom teachers and have many other obligations that require their physical presence. Each site is figuring out what works best for the JRSs and the directors.

We have also gained important insights about the work we are doing. One of the leading practices in education is reflecting on one’s work and assessing what we have learned and how we incorporate this into our work as we move forward. We are learning that:

  • There is much work to do if we want to more meaningfully and deeply engage parents and families in Jewish life and community.
  • Staff is getting inspired about their learning and are wanting to know more. When teachers are passionate about Judaism, they will surely pass it on to the children and families. 
  • When we embrace change and growth, there are so many possibilities available to us. We need to have the wisdom and skills to bring everyone on board. 
  • We are grateful that so many people are committed to this work. It is gratifying to do the JRS work within a community of peers, colleagues and visionaries.

Stay tuned for the next quarterly JRS report and follow us as we transition and transform.

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