Home Agencies Reflections of the past year’s reimagined Weinstein JCC Preschool Program

Reflections of the past year’s reimagined Weinstein JCC Preschool Program

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By Donna Peters, Early Childhood Director
And Lisa Plotkin, Early Childhood Professional Development Director

It’s true what they say, if you practice looking for the good, it gets easier.  This year has been an opportunity to find the good despite so much sadness, hardship, and ongoing uncertainty.

The Weinstein JCC Preschool is no exception.  When we closed in March 2020, we had a major decision to make – do we stay closed as a way to keep our members and employees safe and healthy or do we reopen in order to serve our members?

With thoughtful and intentional planning and in holding to our Center’s mission and values, we decided we must reopen and be present for our community, especially for our children and working parents.

Together, we have strengthened our Kehillah Kedoshah, our sacred community, in ways we never could have imagined.  Our teachers rise to new challenges, our children shine in resilience, and our families remain dedicated partners with us and inspire us to wholeheartedly create enduring relationships founded upon understanding, listening, and authenticity.

As in the favorite story, “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen, “We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it.  Oh No!  We’ve gotta go through it.”  In truth, seeking the positives has been the only way to get through this year.

Opportunities

Through it all, we have found golden opportunities and learned new things about ourselves, children, and our program.  A few examples:

The Preschool’s focus on creating opportunities for children to build connections in the natural world has deepened this past year.  We quickly implemented a healthier alternative to being in the classroom by discovering unique outdoor spaces beyond our playgrounds and Edible Schoolyard where children could explore, take risks, and challenge themselves.

A parent shared, “The amount of time spent outside has been wonderful! We are trying to teach our boys the importance of taking care of the earth.”  (Tikkun Olam)

We have found increased gratitude (hit’orerut) in relationships – teachers have made even more intentional efforts to connect in a physically distanced atmosphere.  Realizing the entire school can’t gather as we used to, teachers have devised new and unique ways to feel or create connection.

Teachers Julia Schneider and Sara Jane Longstaff invited all classes to connect through paper chains strung from class-to-class.  This was a strong metaphor for adults and a fun engaging experience for children.  Through the lens of Tikkun Olam, we are fixing the world through relationships.

From virtual mystery readers to delivering mail, from documenting children’s work in progress in the Bird Habitat to a canned food drive helping our local Food Bank, our community has proudly made meaningful connections for children and families.

We have also had the pleasure of Rachel Peters’ original efforts through Family Club to safely gather outdoors to celebrate Shabbat, Sukkot and enjoy live concerts.

Reflections & Relationships

Over the past few years, we have stressed the value of our faculty being together, out of the classroom, to reflect on our professional practice and strengthen our relationships. After re-opening, we spent a lot of time meeting and debriefing the necessary changes to our program while reflecting on anxieties around the pandemic. We shared and gathered observational and anecdotal data about how the children were relating to each other and their teachers. We noticed positive behavioral changes, an explosion of confidence, empathy and self-awareness.

We were astounded by the children’s resilience, enthusiasm, and pure joy at being back together, especially in the smaller groups, with the same teachers, fewer transitions, and more time exploring outdoors. By making time to meet and share, we are making decisions influenced by the feedback from parents and faculty. We are on this journey (masa) together and have a strong voice as early childhood professionals in implementing best practices to enable our children to reach their potential.

Finding Balance 

We strive to balance and provide support for our working parents.  As stated by a parent, “Although the shortened hours of operation have been difficult … It has clearly been beneficial for our child to have the single classroom and the shortened day, compared to the previous classroom transitions. It has been really wonderful to see how he has bonded with his teachers and classmates.”

And another shares, “My child is even more excited to come to school than he used to be!”

A favorite memory of EC Director Donna Peters was upon hearing a child who was leaving for the day saying out loud in a strong voice to their parent, “This was the best day ever!”

Peters shared, “As we welcomed back our children who were coming out of the cozy cocoon of staying at home with their parents over many weeks/months, it was inspiring to witness the children’s exuberance and readiness to be back together to play, explore freely, build friendships and have FUN!”

Moving Forward

Our mindsets have changed for the better.  Through our challenges and opportunities, we have hopefully built strong skills for thinking out of the box.  Our vision is a guiding tool, at the forefront of our new beginnings, reminding us how we want to embrace our children, families, and each other.  It is our responsibility to always seek to strengthen our vision and hold tight to authenticity for the benefit of our children and families.  We believe in the potential of every person (b’tzelem elohim), so we lean into the hopes for building a better world; as our vision challenges us, “May we inspire one another to make the world better for this and future generations!”  AMEN!

For more information about our Preschool enrollment or employment opportunities, please contact EC Director Donna Peters at dpeters@weinsteinjcc.org or Lisa Plotkin, EC professional development director at lplotkin@weinsteinjcc.org.

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