Program teaches parents to raise curious kids – Israeli style

Idis Arugeta used to come home from a long day of work and stick her toddler in front of the TV. But she said an Israeli-created home visitation program has changed the way she parents.

Now Arugeta said she sets aside one-on-one time to do things like read with her daughter — and it has paid off.

Her daughter has become “the best student,” Arugeta reported. “She knows everything.”

HIPPY, or Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, is designed to help low-income parents prepare their 3- to 5-year-old children to start school. Parents receive a weekly curriculum. They are given books on a schedule — every week or every other week — including a new book that teaches them how to become their child’s first teacher.

The program was started in Israel in 1969 to help immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East prepare for life in their new country. HIPPY, which still operates in its native country, came to the United States in 1980 via the National Council for Jewish Women’s Research Institute for Innovation in Education at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Today there are 140 HIPPY sites in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

Locally, HIPPY partners with the Fairfax County public schools in Virginia, Enterprise Community Partners in Baltimore, and the Perry School Community Services Center and the Family Place, both in the District of Columbia.

More than 125 parents participate in HIPPY at the Family Place. The majority are Spanish speakers with little formal education in their native country, according to Haley Wiggins, executive director of the nonprofit.

“Lots of parents say, ‘I send my child to school to learn,’” Wiggins said.

HIPPY works to change that mindset, she said. Parents are shown how to make their children lifelong, eager students.

“We really work with the parents. We empower them to be role models,” Wiggins said.

While the curriculum emphasizes reading and math, there is also a week dedicated to germs and why showering and teeth brushing are important.

A typical HIPPY session happens in the parent’s home, though libraries and other public places are options as well. The home visitor explains the week’s curriculum and shows the parent what to do. During the hourlong visit, the home visitor also tells the parent about other services available. Many clients, said Wiggins, have no idea how many programs exist on the local and federal level to help people deal with the challenges of poverty.

HIPPY also sponsors monthly meetings for parents to get to know each other while learning. Some topics during recent meetings have included bullying, tax preparation and domestic violence prevention. The program is provided free to the families, with most of the funding coming from the federal government’s Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program.

Linda Frank, chair of HIPPY USA’s board of trustees, spoke about the program like a proud parent.

“It really has become a passion for me,” she said.

To her, HIPPY is about much more than handing out books. Frank said parents learn the importance of being in contact with teachers, attending back-to-school nights and staying engaged with their child’s education.

Other skills that are taught to parents include how to get children to pay attention, take turns and sit quietly, she said.

Sonia Sorto, a HIPPY home visitor, said the program truly makes a difference. The parents often start out wary, she said, but quickly “most parents become really involved.”

Burbank shul stunned by rejection of preschool permit, plans appeal

With a new rabbi and a growing waiting list for its preschool, Burbank Temple Emanu El has been preparing in recent months for long-awaited growth by seeking the city’s permission to expand its preschool and Hebrew school.

But when a request to use an adjacent home owned by the Conservative synagogue as an educational facility was denied by the city’s five-person planning board in a 3-2 vote on Aug. 11, Rabbi John Carrier was stunned at the setback. He told the Journal the synagogue soon will appeal the decision to Burbank’s City Council.

“We made plans that mitigated any concerns about extra traffic or parking at that house,” said Carrier, who has a daughter attending the preschool and another one in the Hebrew school. “We played everything by the rules.”

Nevertheless, facing complaints made by several neighbors and expressing concerns about noise, car traffic and preservation of the neighborhood’s residential character, three board members — Undine Petrulis, Christopher Rizzotti and Kimberly Jo — voted down Emanu El’s request. Kenneth San Miguel and Doug Drake voted to approve the permit.

The synagogue believes that expanding its preschool and Hebrew school would create an opportunity to attract new families. Emanu El has about 100 families today, up from a few years ago when it was contemplating merging with another congregation because of declining membership and financial difficulties. At 60 students, the preschool housed in the synagogue on North Glenoaks Boulevard is at capacity.

Had the board approved Emanu El’s request to use as an educational facility the house it owns at 407 Bethany Road, it would have allowed the synagogue to educate another 20 students, approximately the current size of its preschool waiting list. Synagogue leaders said the home was donated to the temple about 12 years ago by a longtime member who hoped that it would eventually be used for classrooms.

Burbank Temple Emanu El (white building in the background) wants to convert the interior of this house, which it owns, into school classrooms. Burbank's planning board turned down the synagogue's request. 

Emanu El’s proposal, which the temple began preparing for the planning board late last year, was to remodel the interior of the house while leaving the exterior largely unaffected, so as to maintain the aesthetic appearance of the street, which is lined with residential homes. A longtime presence in the neighborhood, the synagogue has operated out of its current building since the early 1970s.

Assuring the planning board in meetings this summer that the expanded preschool would not impact traffic flow or parking in the community, the synagogue received the blessing of Burbank’s community development department, a city agency that reviews and offers recommendations on proposals made to the planning board. 

In an Aug. 11 memo to the board as part of its recommendation for approval of Emanu El’s request, two officials from the department noted that 24 preschools already exist in residentially zoned areas of Burbank, that four had received conditional-use permits to use existing facilities as a preschool and that they had “not found any data or records to suggest that there is likely to be any significant impacts from parking [or] noise.”

Carrier, who became the synagogue’s first full-time rabbi in years when he joined the congregation in July after receiving ordination from American Jewish University’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, spoke in front of the planning board on Aug. 11. In the meeting (video of which is available online), he invoked the biblical commandment in Deuteronomy to educate children (recited daily in Jewish prayer services) as a primary reason Emanu El needs use of the home as a school.

“What this expansion allows us to do is to live that, to fulfill that precept,” Carrier told the Journal. “We have the right to expect the same consideration that has been received by dozens of other organizations in the city.” 

From a financial perspective, increasing the size of the synagogue’s preschool and Hebrew school would introduce the congregation to new families, who in turn may choose to become paying members. Stacy Schnaid, the synagogue’s vice president, wrote in an email to the Journal that Emanu El’s proposed expansion “is vital to our synagogue from a social, spiritual and financial perspective.”

“The preschool brings in young families who become part of our temple community,” she wrote. She also told the planning board that the preschool welcomes families of all backgrounds; about 25 percent of the students are not Jewish.

Still, at the Aug. 11 meeting, vice chair Petrulis cited several concerns that weighed on her mind, including additional traffic and noise, and said that the board is “trying to preserve our neighborhoods.” 

“The school is already there,” Petrulis said at the meeting. “But adding another 20 percent I think is detrimental.”

One resident who lives near the synagogue and voiced to the board his opposition to the temple’s permit application, characterized Emanu El’s proposal as a “game changer” and said that Burbank “has an obligation to maintain the neighborhood as it [was] when I [bought] it.” 

Rizzotti, a board member and real estate agent, implied that converting the home for use as a school could reduce property values or impact the ability of neighbors to market their homes if they have to disclose that they live next to a preschool. He suggested at the meeting that it may be time for Emanu El to find larger facilities elsewhere. Jo, who also declined the request, expressed her affection for the synagogue but also suggested it may want to consider moving into a larger building. 

Rizzotti told the Journal that he would have liked to have been provided with figures on how many residential homes in Burbank had been converted for use as a school — the community development department only provided statistics showing that 24 preschools already exist in residential zones, not identifying those that were essentially residential structures.

“If you told me there were 10 single-family homes converted into preschools, that’s a factual basis statement that possibly I can take into consideration,” Rizzotti said in a telephone interview.

The city agency that recommended approval wrote to the Journal that it was unaware of other single-family homes in Burbank receiving the permit that Emanu El is seeking but would conduct additional research upon appeal.

 Drake, a board member who voted to approve Emanu El’s request, told the Journal that he had to weigh neighbors’ complaints with his “100 percent” agreement with the community development department’s findings that Emanu El’s request would entail no significant disruption of the street’s residential character. 

“You have the neighborhood — they have been here for quite a while. The temple has been there for quite a long time as well and is a fixture of the neighborhood,” Drake said. “I didn’t feel that it would be disruptive enough to vote against it.”

This is not the first time that Emanu El has had proposals for expansion denied by the city. In 1995 and 2001, the synagogue attempted — and failed — to increase its preschool and Hebrew school capacities. But Emanu El’s current leadership points out that in both of those proposals, the synagogue requested building a two-story structure, a more ambitious request than utilizing the interior of an existing adjacent one-story home.

“We already have a preschool, so it’s not like we are trying to do something new in a residential community,” said Leeron Dvir, the synagogue’s preschool director. “We are not trying to build a second story, we are not trying to turn it into a huge facility. It’s going to look like a home from the outside.”

Schnaid, discussing the synagogue’s upcoming appeal to the city council, said she expects that the planning board’s ruling will be overturned if the council “fairly and properly” considers the facts. That appeal is expected to be filed within the coming days or weeks. 

Providing books to Jaffa preschoolers makes Israel stronger

The children at the Arabic-speaking Ofek preschool in Jaffa spent a lot of time this past year thinking about a mouse named Samsoum, the character in a picture book all the kids have read at home with help from their parents.  

In class, the kids did a range of Samsoum-related projects inspired by the book “Samsoum the Mouse” by Jahil Khazaal, about a field mouse who relaxes while the other field mice gather food for the winter, but who later warms the hearts of the worker mice with his colorful stories. 

The children discussed the different emotions portrayed in the book. They also learned that every creature has a role to play in the community — and that food for the soul can be as important as food for the stomach. In the process, the children fell in love with the book.  

Throughout Israel, 45,000 Arab children in government preschools read “Samsoum the Mouse” as part of a reading-readiness program called Maktabat al-Fanoos (Lantern Library). The program began in January and is modeled after Sifriyat Pijama, which for the past five years has distributed children’s books in Hebrew to hundreds of thousands of Jewish preschoolers. Sifriyat Pijama is a sister program to the popular PJ Library Jewish family engagement program in North America, both founded by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation in Massachusetts. 

Lantern Library, created by the Ministry of Education in partnership with the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and San Diego-based Price Philanthropies Foundation, provided four books that the children took home and treasured. During the 2014-15 school year, the plan is to provide eight books to children in all government kindergartens and pre-kindergartens — 80,000 children in all.  

“As people who care about Israel and about the future of Israel, we feel it’s very important to help improve the lives of the Arab citizens of this country,” said Robert Price, president of Price Philanthropies Foundation, explaining his family foundation’s long-term involvement in the Arab community and the decision to be a partner in Lantern Library.

Culturally appropriate and with a strong storyline conducive to discussions on values and emotions, the books encourage parents and children to lay the groundwork for reading. As with books in the Hebrew-speaking effort, the Arabic books are chosen by a selection committee composed of experts in child development, children’s literature and preschool education. 

On the occasion of a visit by the Price family to Ofek, Keefah Masri Bassel, who teaches the 3- and 4-year-olds, said the program has transformed her classroom. 

“The first time I held one of the books, I began to dream that every child would have a shelf in their room reserved for their books,” Bassel said.  

A week later, the teacher invited the parents to the school, where she taught them how to create a library corner at home. The parents helped the children transform T-shirts into book bags and create “This Library Belongs to …” signs.   

When the children went outside for breakfast, a speech-language expert discussed with the parents ways to cope with the differences between spoken and written Arabic, and how to best engage the children — for example, allowing them to retell the story in their own words. Together, they explored the parents’ guide at the back of the book. 

Galina Vromen, executive director of the Grinspoon Foundation in Israel, said the Arabic-language program presented the organizers with some unique challenges. One of them is the dearth of quality Arabic children’s books that are accessible to the Israeli market. 

Vromen said the program “is largely dependent on what’s produced here in Israel, Jordan and Egypt” and noted that, due to political unrest, the annual Egyptian book fair, once the largest Arabic fair in the world, has been discontinued. Turmoil also has affected children’s book production in other nations, including Syria and Iraq. 

Because of the Arab boycott of all things Israeli, some Arab publishers have refused to sell reprint rights to Israeli publishers, who repackage the books, with a parents’ guide, for the program. That’s one reason the program has an interest in supporting the local Arab-Israeli publishing industry, which clearly benefits from a sale of 45,000 copies, whether the book is an original or reprinted.  

“We want strong readers, so we need locally made books,” Vromen said, adding that “there’s tremendous excitement” about the program in the Arab sector from publishers, teachers and parents. 

These same teachers and parents say the literacy program is particularly important for Arab children because it introduces them to formal written Arabic, which is different from spoken Arabic, at an early age.  

“Our goal is to encourage reading readiness with exposure to classical Arabic,” said Vicky Glazer, the supervisor of Jaffa preschools. 

Fatma Abu Ahmed Kassem, national supervisor of preschools for the Arab sector, said the program’s emphasis on interaction with adults “is critical to learning. Reading books offers an opportunity for quality adult interaction with children at home and in the classroom.”

The program, Kassem said, “promotes and enhances a culture of expression and discussion, and raises the awareness of language and enriches language use. Exposing children to a variety of literary works of Arab literature and culture as well as world literature encourages children to become curious and enthusiastic readers.”

Pacific Palisades Chabad preschool denied lease extension

Public testimony was presented last night’s emergency meeting convened by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to consider Chabad of Pacific Palisades’ appeal to temporarily extend its preschool lease at Temescal Gateway Park.
Credit: Robert Garcia/The City Project

An eight-to-one vote by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Board — along with a unanimous vote by the Conservancy Advisory Board — last night soundly defeated Chabad of Pacific Palisades’ appeal to temporarily extend the lease for its preschool site at Temescal Gateway Park from September 2008 through January 2009.

The vote upheld the unequivocal denial by Conservancy executive director Joe Edmiston on June 12 to extend Chabad’s lease. It also confirmed the decision of the Conservancy in April 2007 to stop leasing the public parkland to private entities — including Chabad’s Palisades Jewish Early Education Center and Little Dolphins Preschool — and to increase public access to the park, especially for underprivileged youth from congested urban areas. The park is owned by the State of California and operated by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

A standing-room-only crowd of several- hundred people, some of them waving signs reading “Public Lands in Public Hands,” attended the spirited and occasionally divisive emergency meeting held on Monday evening, July 7, at the park’s Conference and Retreat Center off Sunset Boulevard in Pacific Palisades.

During the three-hour meeting, public testimony was heard from supporters of the Conservancy, from environmental and educational groups using the park for educational and recreational activities for low-income and at-risk children, and from representatives and friends of Chabad.

“We found a new location in January,” Rabbi Zushe Cunin, executive director of Chabad of Pacific Palisades, told the group. “We had every reason to believe we wouldn’t need an extension.”

Cunin reiterated Chabad’s offer of a $250,000 bond to secure their word and to guarantee departure from the park premises by January 31, 2009.

Additionally, Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, father of Zushe Cunin and president of Chabad of California, the parent organization, invited 3,000 inner-city children to Chabad’s Camp Gan Israel in Running Springs for four days, all expenses paid, to provide them with an even more authentic outdoor experience.

“I will give you my cell phone number,” he said.

But others, such as Robert Garcia, executive director of City Project, while lamenting a situation in which “child is pitted against child,” spoke in opposition to renewing the lease and to privatizing Temescal Gateway Park. Working with 20 organizations, including Anahuak Youth Association and the National Hispanic Environmental Council, City Project supports public access to parklands for all.

“Equal access to public resources means, under California law, the fair treatment of people of all races, cultures and income,” said Garcia, pointing out that Pacific Palisades has 404.83 acres of parks per thousand residents, compared to .66 acres in East Los Angeles.

And while Chabad supporters stressed that the school is using less than half an acre in a 140-acre park, the Conservancy’s Edmiston said that the park is predominately covered by chaparral, while Chabad’s site, which includes three trailers and a fenced-in field, occupies one of only two flat, grassy spots in the park that can accommodate large groups of children.

“It’s a zero-sum situation. If you have trailers there, you’re not going to be able to have kids playing there,” he said.

Amy Lethbridge, in charge of education for the Conservancy, told the group that more experiential programs have been planned for the coming year, including additional contracts with Los Angeles Unified School District to bring out more kids.

“I need space to serve the very programs the park was purchased to serve,” she said.

Chabad’s attorney Benjamin Reznik, a partner at Jeffer, Mangles, Butler and Marmaro, lamented that the issue is being framed as “us versus them, private versus public.” He stated that Chabad didn’t anticipate the delay on their new site and is asking only for a temporary extension.

“Whoever’s out there saying that what we’re asking is to take over the park is being, I think, very mean-spirited,” he said.

Chabad had been renting space for its preschool at several locations in Temescal Gateway Park since 2008. But the lease, which stipulated it could not be “extended or renewed under any circumstances” and which was itself a one-year extension of a previous one-year non-renewable lease, ended on June 23.

Chabad found a new location in January, signing a three-year lease on a 3,000-square-foot vacant building located on private property off Los Liones Drive, adjacent to a Getty Villa service road and to property owned by the Mormon Church and below a ridge of expensive homes in the Castellammare Mesa area of Pacific Palisades.

But strong opposition by the neighbors and a claim by the Getty that Chabad does not have the right to access the property via its service road have delayed the project. Additionally, the Mormon Church has denied entry through its property.

Chabad is exploring all options for accessing the building and is encouraged by the recent discovery of an overlooked legal document allowing a potential public street to be constructed that would lead directly to the building’s entrance. Chabad is also planning to file for a conditional-use permit in the next 10 days and has agreed not to open the preschool until all conditions have been met. But whatever happens, the preschool will not be ready for September occupancy.

After Chabad’s request to extend the lease was denied by Conservancy executive director Edmiston on June 12, Chabad approached Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to intercede.

A letter from Mike Chrisman, secretary of the State of California Resources Agency, on June 26, responding for the governor, provided Chabad with guidelines to “help resolve this matter in a way that makes sense for Chabad, its neighbors, and the [Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy].” After Chabad formally appealed, Conservancy chairperson Ronald Schafer called the emergency meeting.

But Monday night’s vote dashed any hopes for a resolution favorable to Chabad. Currently, the preschool is holding its six-week summer program at Palisades Elementary School, as it has every summer, and it is looking for a temporary location.

Still, Chabad will open its doors for the fall session on Sept. 4, Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin guaranteed at the end of the meeting.

“We will have a proper preschool,” he said. “We will not let the children down.”

Preschool education gets a new Italian accent

Aah, Italy.

The mere mention evokes images of lush Tuscan landscapes, museums filled with masterpieces and … pedagogy?

The land of Michelangelo and da Vinci is also known for a progressive approach to early childhood education named for the northern Italian town where it started — Reggio Emilia.

The child-centered philosophy has been adopted in schools around the world and drawn interest from such figures as former Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, who traveled to Italy during his tenure under the Clinton administration to see the approach in action.

Locally, it has attracted the attention of the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles (BJE). In April, the BJE arranged for 22 educators from local Jewish preschools to travel to Italy for a six-day intensive introduction to the Reggio Emilia approach. Colleagues from Washington, D.C., and Israel joined the group for the program.

Initiated soon after World War II, Reggio emphasizes respect and regard for children, whose interests, input and comments help direct lessons, classroom activities and topics of exploration.

Esther Posin, a preschool teacher at Temple Israel of Hollywood, was already using Reggio before joining the trip. She gave an example of a child using blocks to build castles to explain how it works.

“That led to a discussion about castles — who lived in them, how they lived and where they lived,” she said. “Then we moved into Judaica, talking about kings and queens [and people like] Pharaoh and Ahasuerus.”

Posin also described how a water bottle once generated a conversation among the children about how water got into the bottle. That, in turn, led to discussions about rain clouds, sewers, dams and pipes and how beavers build dams. The children created a dam using mud and twigs.

“A child is not a blank slate to be completely directed. Children are curious and thoughtful and able to acquire knowledge on their own without someone feeding it to them,” Posin said. “You can teach them a lot, but you do it by building on their curiosity, imagination and thoughts.”

Teacher anecdotes about the effectiveness of the Reggio approach have been reiterated by academics, among them Dr. Carolyn Pope Edwards, professor of psychology and child, youth and family studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She observed Chinese orphanages using the approach. Even in these institutional settings, she said, “The Reggio-inspired programs had wonderful effects on children across the board.”

Esther Elfenbaum, director of early childhood education services at the BJE, and her counterpart, Mara Bier from the Washington, D.C., area, spearheaded the Jewish educators’ trip to Italy. Elfenbaum had observed schools in Reggio Emilia about a decade earlier.

“It totally blew my mind. It was the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in my many years [in early education],” said Elfenbaum, who has been in the field for close to 40 years. “Three- and 4-year-olds could do an activity for an hour because they were so interested.”

Several years ago, Elfenbaum began offering a BJE-sponsored class on Reggio in collaboration with the Early Childhood Center at Stephen S. Wise Temple. But she wanted teachers and preschool directors to see the approach in practice.

Trip participants represented 12 schools, ranging from Orthodox to Reconstructionist. The six-day program included workshops at the Loris Malaguzzi International Center, as well as visits to Reggio schools. The group also convened separately to discuss and apply Jewish values to what they’d learned. Those who took part had to secure their own funding for travel and class expenses.

The group will continue to meet regularly to discuss the approach and how to apply it in the classroom. A listserve enables them to communicate with fellow participants from Washington and Israel.

Sherry Fredman, nursery school principal at Temple Israel of Hollywood, was impressed with Reggio’s approach to the concept of time.

“They don’t want the children to rush through their activities [or] have to transition every five minutes to a different activity,” Fredman said. “They really allow children to take their time to delve into the curriculum and … experience it with all their senses.”

Reggio’s emphasis on “documentation” calls for teachers to photograph the children in action, take extensive notes and interview the children about what they’re doing. Elaborate displays showcase children’s activities, allowing parents to see what happens in the classroom and children to revisit their ideas. They also demonstrate that the children’s work is valued. Parents, teachers and the community are all seen as stakeholders in the educational process.

Elfenbaum said she was attracted to Reggio because it echoed many Jewish concepts.

“The image of the child in Reggio is that of an intelligent, curious and capable being,” she said. “‘In The Wisdom of the Fathers [Pirke Avot], it says, ‘Each child brings his own blessing into the world’ and ‘Whenever children are learning, there dwells the Divine Presence.'”

She said Reggio and Judaism share many other principles, including the concepts of dialogue and discussion, collaboration and community, and an emphasis on lifelong learning.

Alexandra Kayman, preschool director of the Chabad Garden School in the Pico-Robertson area, said that because Reggio is a philosophy-based education, it “fits beautifully” with Chabad’s approach to educating children. Teachers can use the children’s interests as a springboard for connecting to the curriculum, she said.

Debi Chesler, director of the Temple Ahavat Shalom Early Childhood Center in Northridge, said that she is making a number of Reggio-inspired changes to the classrooms’ physical environment, including bringing in more light and color. The school is also producing more displays, “allowing children to use words and feelings and thoughts about the projects they are doing,” she said.

Those who traveled to Reggio Emilia consistently showed enthusiasm for the approach and its potential.

“This is going to improve and enrich our environment, our curriculum, our students’ lives, and our educators’ lives,” Temple Israel’s Fredman said.

Preschool Teaching Methods Stir Debate

Once upon a time, children didn’t step into a classroom until kindergarten. There, 5-year-olds got their first real introduction to ABCs and 123s, colors and shapes and how to share and take turns.

Today, kindergartners are widely expected to know their letters and numbers before the first day of school. One mother, whose child will start kindergarten in the fall, was told that because her child was not yet reading, he was “already behind.”

That’s not truly the case at either a public school or at the vast majority of private schools, but many schools and parents are pushing students to learn material at progressively earlier ages. That presents preschools with the challenge of balancing these demands with the needs and the developing abilities of their young charges.

One result is that parents and educators alike have been thrown into the debate over the merits of a more academic approach — traditional, structured and teacher-directed — vs. a developmental approach — more informal and child directed.

“With the academic approach, kids get information drilled into them that they may not grasp,” said Sarah Maizes, the mother of a 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old twins. “I want my children to understand the world on their own terms.”

Maizes, who previously worked in children’s publishing and television, chose to send her children to preschool at Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles, because she considered it developmentally oriented, focusing on “each individual child’s needs.”

April Brown, in contrast, originally chose the developmental route with her then-3-year-old son, Andrew, because she “didn’t want to push him.” But after he grew bored and unhappy, she switched him to a more structured, academic program.

“He did much better in an environment that was more focused on projects, goals and lessons,” Brown said. “The decision wasn’t made based on how I wanted him to perform but on what suited him best.”

Experts say that both academic and developmental approaches have merit, and in fact, can be used in combination.

“For many years, I’ve heard about this dichotomy of developmental vs. academic … They aren’t mutually exclusive,” said Dr. Barbara Gereboff, head of school at Kadima Academy in Woodland Hills. “These terms are used to stand in for ‘kind and gentle and nurturing’ vs. ‘punitive and strict.’ These are the wrong definitions.”

Kadima’s new preschool on a campus it purchased last year is already fully enrolled.

Young children can and do benefit from academic experiences, said Esther Elfenbaum, director of Early Childhood Education Services for the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE) of Greater Los Angeles.

“By the time children reach the age of 5, their brains have made many connections. The more stimulation a child’s brain receives, the better off that child will be,” she said. At the same time, material should be presented in a manner that is appropriate and interesting for each child. “Children can learn more than we think. The trick is to make it so that they want to learn.”

Seven years ago, Elfenbaum introduced a teaching methodology called Reggio Emilia to Jewish community educators. This approach uses children’s interests as departure points for learning opportunities. For example, if a student raises a question about a certain animal, that can lead to a discussion of the animal’s habitat, diet and lifestyle.

By allowing children to explore what’s significant to them, this type of approach “does academics in a way that’s developmentally appropriate,” she said.

Elfenbaum recently returned from a BJE-sponsored trip to Israel, where she and 17 early childhood educators from Los Angeles observed best practices at Israeli preschools. There, they saw classroom walls covered with children’s artwork and child-dictated captions, which were created around such themes as “the ocean” or “summer.” She believes that teaching reading through such a themed approach is more effective than using “the letter of the week.”

At Harkham Hillel Academy in Beverly Hills, Cecelie Wizenfeld, early childhood director, described her school’s approach as “developmentally academic.” While the curriculum is structured to accommodate both general studies and Hebrew, she said lessons are presented in a way that recognizes children’s “ages and stages.”

Even when schools recognize their student’s capabilities and limitations, the children may still find themselves being pushed.

“Parents at orientation ask, ‘Will my [3-year-old] child be reading?” Wizenfeld said. “I tell them that the No. 1 priority is for children to feel good about learning.”

Children’s early learning experiences are also affected by the caliber of their teachers. Tamar Andrews, preschool director at Temple Isaiah, noted that California requires only 12 units of early childhood education for state preschool teachers, a fact she called “scary.”

Andrews said that she prefers to borrow elements from the many philosophies. The ultimate goals of preschool “are intangible: high self-esteem, a sense of self and a sense of belonging,” she said. In other words, “the goal is for children to turn out to be menches.”


Smaller Classes for Smaller Kids

"I want to create a place of wonder," said Lindy Lane-Epstein, who spent the summer attempting to animate her vision for a scaled-down preschool and kindergarten for members of Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom.

She started with painting in primary colors and moved on to culling well-loved toys for the best specimens.

With enrollment capped at under 50 children aged 2 to 6 and a state-mandated teacher-student ratio of 1 to 6, Lane-Epstein predicts both students and instructors will enjoy a far different experience when classes start Sept. 8.

She was hired as the preschool’s new director in June to revamp the synagogue’s program with a more pronounced Jewish curriculum. "I like the idea of a more intimate program," Lane-Epstein said.

While her most recent job was an assistant math teacher at a Jewish day school, Lane-Epstein also worked as a Judaica educator, teacher and assistant director of the Jewish Community Center’s preschool in Costa Mesa, which then enrolled 140 students.

That and more were enrolled in Beth Sholom’s preschool up until last spring. Yet after more than 30 years, operating deficits forced the synagogue to let go its full-time preschool staff and close its award-winning children’s learning center (CLC), a community day-care facility used by as many as 160 children, including infants.

"When we really looked at it, it was worse than we thought," said Sylvan Swartz, the congregation’s president. Costs for health insurance and worker’s compensation had increased so dramatically in recent years, he said, that the congregation was contemplating program cuts elsewhere to make up the deficit.

"Did it make sense to reduce the quality and quantity of temple programs when our CLC, comprised of 75 to 80 percent non-Jewish families, was a major source of our cash drain?" Swartz explained in a synagogue bulletin.

"It didn’t make sense," he said in an interview. "When we stepped back, it was obvious. We were cutting the wrong program."

The wrenching financial decision was made easier when synagogue leaders settled on starting fresh with a more Jewish orientation for its 650 families. Nonmembers could enroll their children, but at higher fees.

"We decided as a synagogue that it made more sense to start over and keep it more manageable," Swartz said.

Praised as one of the county’s best child-care operations, Swartz said, "Like any small business in America, it’s difficult to compete with large operations."

Neither did the synagogue management want to tackle finding a solution.

"We’re not there as a day-care center," Swartz said. "Our commitment is to lifelong learning."

The full-time staff of the larger preschool was uninterested in the part-time hours at the revamped operation, he said.

For Lane-Epstein, 44, starting fresh is a rare opportunity to make concrete her many creative ideas, particularly in Judaica where preschool curriculum is not standardized. To teach kindergarten, she hired Felicia Fields Bennett, a former Morasha Jewish Day School teacher. The class is likely to be no more than 12 children, well under state requirements.

"I’ll have my style," Lane-Epstein said, which will include creating a Jewish environment with Israel posters, Hebrew writing and Jewish-themed puzzles. She is equally enthusiastic about enriching the preschool’s Jewish content with the effervescent presence of Rabbi Heidi Cohen, whose daughter, 5-year-old Dahvi, is enrolled.

As is her practice during Beth Sholom’s summer camp, Cohen will make weekly Shabbat visits to the preschool.

Spinning a Jewish Web

When preschool teacher Sylvia Rouss noticed a lack of children’s literature about Judaism, she did something about it: she wrote the books herself. Rouss, who teaches at Stephen S. Wise Temple, is the author of the popular "Sammy Spider" series, which are widely used in Jewish schools around the country.

"I use the spider as a vehicle to teach young children about Jewish holidays and Israel," said the Tarzana resident. In her latest book, "Sammy Spider’s First Trip to Israel" ($6.95, Kar-Ben Publishing), which was released in July, Sammy tags along when the family he lives with makes a special trip to the Holy Land. "It is very hard to find any books for young children on topic of Israel," Rouss said. "We try to teach [children about Israel] every year because it is so important at a Jewish school."

Earlier, when Rouss completed "Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah" (Kar-Ben Publishing, 1993) she was asked to create a series around her crawling character. It wasn’t long before the young spider experienced Passover (1995), Rosh Hashana (1996), Shabbat (1998), Tu B’Shevat (2000) and Purim (2000). While "Sammy Spider’s First Trip to Israel," is the arachnid’s seventh adventure, Rouss has written numerous other books as well as two anthologies and two activity books.

Having traveled to the Jewish homeland every year for the last 27 years, Rouss has developed a strong connection to the country. As such, she just wrote a new book for older children called "Tali’s Jerusalem Scrapbook," which is about a young girl living in Israel. The story deals with terrorism through the eyes of a child. Rouss is quick to point out the importance of going to Israel during times like these. "When someone’s sick, you make a point of visiting them," she noted.

In addition to the "Sammy" books, Rouss recently released a preschool rhyming book called "The Littlest Candlesticks" ($14.95, Pitspopany Press).

Meet Sylvia Rouss as she gives public readings of her three most recent works on Sunday, Oct. 27 at 10 a.m. at Temple Beth Israel, 3033 N. Towne Ave., Pomona, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel & Pomona Valleys, (626) 967-3656; and Sunday, Nov. 24, 11:30 a.m. at Pages Books for Children, 18399 Ventura Blvd., No. 15, Tarzana, (818) 342-6657.

Jewish ‘Life’ Comes to Simi

Having staved off the imminent demise of the area’s only Jewish preschool, Simi Valley’s Congregation B’nai Emet (CBE) is poised to do far more — trade land donated to CBE to meet the needs and ensure the future of the area’s entire Jewish community.

Until 1998, the preschool had been operated by the Jewish Community Center (JCC) at a surplus school site rented from the local public school district. When the Simi Valley preschool learned its lease would end in six months, the JCC decided to close the school. The preschool’s director resigned around the same time. The urgent need to save the city’s lone Jewish preschool served as the catalyst for an intense rescue effort by both the preschool’s parents and CBE.

Nancy Beezy Micon had one child in the preschool and had been in the community for only a year when the crisis arose. "I was concerned about losing this precious preschool, and I was wondering what was going to happen. I was kind of waiting for something to happen and then it dawned on me, if I want to save this preschool, I’d better do something." CBE shared her concern. "There was an immediate reaction that something had to be done," said Michael Hollander, now executive vice president of CBE’s board of directors.

CBE adopted the preschool and the school district agreed to a yearly lease. Melinda Schneider, a teacher at the preschool, became its new director and helped streamline the preschool’s operation to keep the school from running at a loss. Because the public school district might well retake the preschool site for its own needs, the preschool’s future was still uncertain. A permanent solution was needed.

Micon and others had tried to convince developer Kaufman & Broad to donate a 4.74-acre parcel of land as a permanent home for the preschool. About the time CBE stepped in to rescue the school, those efforts paid off, and the land was donated to the congregation. CBE is a largely working-class congregation. Housed in rented industrial space, the land donation finally gave CBE a real chance to build its own permanent home.

Even with the land, however, the congregation soon realized that it could not raise the few million dollars needed to build a modest structure. Ownership of the land was not free — it carried a combined yearly property tax and improvement bond obligation of nearly $20,000. That’s when the debate arose. Should CBE sell and hope that an equally suitable piece of land might become available in the almost fully developed community? Or, should it sell and use the proceeds to reduce dues and offer new programs?

A 1997 survey by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles estimated that there were as many as 8,000 Jews in Simi Valley and neighboring Moorpark. By all accounts, more would come, lured by both low crime rates and low housing costs. How could CBE accommodate their needs? How could a burgeoning Jewish community be served from its rented industrial space?

When the dust settled from the debates, what emerged was a more hopeful solution, one that might benefit not just CBE, but the entire Jewish community for years to come. The Jewish Life Center of Simi Valley (JLC) would be formed and the land would be donated to the new entity. The land would be turned into a community resource, available to all. The planned structure will be open to a variety of Jewish services and organizations, such as Jewish Family Service and Bet Tzedek legal services (both beneficiary agencies of The Federation), vocational services and others. Athletic fields and gathering places are planned. So is a multipurpose room that CBE and others can use.

JLC seated its first board of directors in July, drawing members from throughout the community. These include not just CBE members such as Micon, Hollander and Rabbi Michelle Paskow, but also Glen Becerra, Simi Valley mayor pro tem, and Margy Rosenbluth, president of The Jewish Federation’s West Valley Alliance. It also includes Arnold Saltzman, general manager of Mt. Sinai Memorial Parks, which recently opened its newest facility in Simi Valley.

The JLC board’s primary task at this point is raising funds to build the center. "We need to make a center for Jewish life and learning that’s a part of our lives," Paskow said.

Letters to the Editor

Westside JCC

The problems at the Westside Jewish Community Center (WJCC) have been a recurring theme over the past few years (“In the Center of Controversy,” Sept. 22). It is very unfortunate that this prime resource in our community continues to be underutilized. These problems are endemic throughout the JCC system in Los Angeles. We certainly experience our share of similar challenges at Valley Cities JCC.

At this point, the board of Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) and the interim director feels the best method to begin this healing process is to eliminate all local boards throughout the system. This may have a streamlining effect for decision-making but does not address the basic malaise in the system: a lack of leadership and long-term planning. The corporate structure instituted over the last few years has looked to members for leadership. In our most successful years we were led by strong staff leadership that knew how to work the halls.

I am certain The Federation as well as JCCGLA would be much more comfortable with our centers if members and staff were moving forward, achieving shared goals. The enumeration of these goals, particularly in the areas of programming, short-term financial needs and long-term capital improvements, will yield much more positive results than the continued strategy of instituting a rigid top-down corporate structure.

Bill Kabaker, Sherman Oaks

Tamar Andrews cannot seem to get her story straight (“Preschool Packs a Rock Solid Rep,” Sept. 22). In one breath she claims she was “fired” from the WJCC nursery school for “complaining too much,” and in the next she says that parents only told her she was doing a good job after she “resigned.” Which is it? The truth is that she resigned with no warning and was asked repeatedly to reconsider. She was asked to leave only after it was learned that she was slamming the school and the WJCC to parents.

Andrews’ misrepresentations and the carping of one or two malcontents to the contrary, the WJCC nursery school continues to be a vibrant and thriving preschool that is strongly supported by its students’ families. Our daughter attended both the nursery school and kindergarten and our son is in his third year at the nursery school; both have had outstanding preschool experiences. The teachers are nothing shorts of amazing: dedicated, warm, loving, knowledgeable and incredibly patient. The developmental program allows children to master preschool skills through play and directed activities. And they get free swimming lessons as part of the curriculum to boot.

The high esteem in which the WJCC nursery school is held by other educators around the city is demonstrated by the high acceptance rates of WJCC graduates in the top private schools – both Jewish and secular – on the Westside. Last year, every WJCC graduate who applied to private school got in.Any parent who is looking for a nurturing, educational and well-rounded environment for their child would do well to consider the WJCC nursery school.

Judy and Mark Landry, Los Angeles

I resigned from my position as preschool director of the WJCC preschool at the end of May 2000. Due to the commotion that my resignation caused, I was told to leave on June 29 without finishing out the summer program. Although I left earlier than anticipated, my resignation was my own decision.

However, your article made the WJCC and its preschool appear to be much worse off than it is. The preschool has a magnificent staff of both Jewish and non-Jewish teachers who still come to my home for Shabbat and holiday meals. The facility, while old and in need of some repairs, still stands above many, many facilities in this city.

You quoted one parent who called the preschool facilities “junk,” when in fact she is a returning parent. Why would a parent knowingly send her child to this preschool when there are so many in this city? I would hope that your readers do not take the article too seriously, otherwise they would miss out on the opportunity to send their children to a wonderful preschool. It just wasn’t the right place for me. However, during my tenure, I helped the preschool achieve national and Bureau of Jewish Education accreditation, implemented the High/Scope curriculum and increased enrollment by 30 children. Many of the needed changes were implemented during my tenure and to this day there are still changes being made to improve the center and the preschool. Could this really be “junk”?

Before Yom Kippur, I can easily say that I am not perfect. The WJCC is not perfect. The Jewish Journal should admit the same. For while we are all not perfect, we all are after the same goal – to help and serve the Jewish community. There are better ways to achieve this than speaking badly about one another.

Tamar Andrews, Los Angeles

In spite of the run-down facilities and inefficiencies, many of us continue to send our children to the preschool because the teachers are very good and the location is convenient.

However, this does not excuse the lack of accountability and responsibility that WJCC Director Michelle Labgold and Preschool Director Ellen Green must have towards the preschool program. Green is the fifth director in the last five years.

We pay premium tuition for the preschool program. We are promised weekly music, art and dance/movement specialists. We have still not received these items.

The program was to include computers in all classrooms. We were told that the numerous computers donated by a parent last year are in some closet. We have also heard that the computers are missing, stolen or too old to be used.

Parents expect that tuition money paid to the preschool go directly to the school, not to be used for other purposes. We are stonewalled and given the runaround when we ask why we don’t have a complete program with specialists. We are told that it’s expensive. The tuition and membership fees more than covers what the program should be and if this is what we are promised, then they must honor it and follow through immediately.

It is truly sad and unfortunate that this has to be discussed in a public forum.

Name withheld by request

Gene Lichtenstein

I am going to miss Gene Lichtenstein. While I did not always agree with him, I will miss the contribution he has made to The Journal.

In his years as editor, he took a publication which at best I glanced at to one I looked forward to reading each week.

I urge you to maintain the diversity that has been established. Please don’t play it safe and retreat into being a house organ or you’ll lose many of your readers.

Joshua Gross,Beverly Hills

I never spoke to or met Gene Lichtenstein; wouldn’t know him if I passed him in the street. Yet he came to my house and visited each week for 15 years. We talked, we discussed, we agreed sometimes and sometimes not. Even thought the contents were not always cover-to-cover magic, it was still far, far superior to the dull, drab, insipid writings the local press had to offer.

All the more remarkable considering that pleasing 50,000 Jewish readers probably makes the head position at The New York Times or The Washington Post feel like a walk in the park. For all the above, Gene Lichtenstein, my appreciation, my thanks.

Maurice Kornberg, Los Angeles

Rosh Hashanah Cover

Your Sept. 29 cover was lovely, but I hope you’re not going to make it permanent. Neither the glossy paper nor the metal staples can be recycled. We owe it to ourselves to be kind to our Mother Earth.

Joan F. Kaufman, Los Angeles

Dennis Prager

Dennis Prager said that the only reason he will vote for George W. Bush is because he is not a Democrat (“Jewish Republicans Assess Bush,” Sept. 15). It is utterly disgraceful, disgusting and insulting to every thinking American.

Barbara Rona, Culver City

Preschool Packs a Rock Solid Rep

The promise – and problems – are writ small at WJCC’s popular pre-school. While the preschool’s administration has undergone some instability, parents can not fault the Gibraltar-solid record of the teaching staff. Indeed, Michelle Labgold, the preschool’s director, stands behind the nursery’s long-standing scholastic reputation.

“We have a wonderful, warm, nurturing preschool,” she says. “Our new director, Ellen Green, is vibrant and has 18 years of experience in the field. We have an enriching curriculum. We have a stable staff that has been here for many, many years. Clearly, the fact that we have such a high reenrollment rate indicates something.”

In addition to citing an almost 100 percent reenroll-ment, Labgold underscores the quality of a WJCC early education, noting that the preschool meets all of California’s high standards. Just this year, it received accreditation by the National Academy of Education of Young Children and by the Bureau of Jewish Education.

Mark and Vicki Rothman say that after attending the preschool, their son’s percentile scores in the Stanford 9, a test used by California schools to measure academic progress, were in the upper 90’s.”Clearly, the background he needed from preschool he got at WJCC,” says Vicki, “because I promise you he didn’t get it from home. We both work full time.”

Academic reputation notwithstanding, the preschool, in recent years, has suffered through a revolving door of center and preschool administrators. Some parents feel the situation was exacerbated by the fact that many of the executives – such as Labgold and Green – commute from the Valley, which makes them unavailable. But Labgold does not feel this is an issue.

“We’re always available to speak with parents,” she says.

“It would be nice if they had someone who knows the neighborhood,” says parent Karen Benjamin, who points out that Tamara Andrews, the former preschool director who left in July, was a local. “I was really sad to see Tamara leave. She was great. She had these monthly Shabbat dinners where she would cook the meals herself and have storytellers.”

The fourth preschool director in four years, Andrews says she came aboard in August 1999 with the best of intentions. She says that the two previous directors warned her not to accept the position because of JCC bureaucracy.

“I was going to join the JCC, thinking it was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” says Andrews, who didn’t finish a year there. “I was basically fired for complaining too much. I was given two hours to clear out.”

Andrews feels that her efforts to create interesting programming were often thwarted by her superiors, and she believes that her departure became a catalyst for the tension swirling around the preschool.

“You have people now from the Valley running the Westside and Westside running the Valley. It’s not a community anymore, it’s a corporation,” says Andrews, who feels that the system would work better “if every school was its own entity and allowed to function independently and not be hampered by bureaucracy. It’s just a very difficult environment to work in. Nobody told me I was doing a good job. It wasn’t really till I resigned that parents came and told me what a good job I was doing.”

In spite of recent tensions, parents insist that the attention given to children by their teachers has never wavered.

“In my experience, there’s a firewall between children and the tension,” says Mark Rothman. “The teachers that we had did everything to make sure that their classes were warm, happy and an emotionally safe environment, regardless what the situation was, whether it was the North Valley shooting or internal friction.”

One would think that dissatisfied parents would be compelled to enroll their kids elsewhere. Despite their criticisms, none are transferring their children.

“Karen Brantley and Debbie Glezer. I like the teachers,” says Benjamin, who singles out educator Samantha Loshin as “God’s gift to children.”

“All three of my kids had an incredibly positive experience,” says Maggie Scott, who not only serves on the WJCC board and chairs the Early Childhood Education Committee, but has lived within blocks of the WJCC all her life. Her mother even taught there in the mid-1980s, and her youngest child just finished her final year at the preschool and spent a pleasant summer at Camp Chai.

Says Scott, “We were really happy all the way through. I know families that have continued to send their second, third, fourth child. That really speaks about how people feel about the school.”

Peewees’ Play House

My 3-year-old pulls out a pot and takes the matzo ball mix down from the shelf — he can reach it in this kitchen, built for people 3 feet and under. He throws in some plastic French fries and an eggplant and serves it to me at the Shabbat table. We’ve got the challah, the kiddush cup, a beautiful tablecloth, and on the mantle behind us, a set of brass candlesticks and, of course, the light-blue JNF pushke.

It seems that Dawn Farber thought of everything when she designed and stocked this new, two-story playhouse for Temple Isaiah’s preschool.

“My focus is always setting the stage for kids, creating an environment that is so enticing and so stimulating, they can’t help but get lost in it,” says Farber, programming director for the preschool.

Downstairs, kids affix drawings of religious objects to the right holiday mat, work with the Hebrew and English letter magnets on the fridge, or just play house in the fully equipped Shabbat kitchen.

Upstairs, a wooden dinosaur skeleton puzzle, about the same size as a preschooler, greets newcomers. Every inch of the tiny room invites exploration and creativity — an ocean scene equipped with Colorform-type stickers, a magnifying glass and a collection of real shells, kaleidoscopes and a build-your-own-bug kit, where the creatures can be stuck onto the real tree around which the house is built. Changeable wall panels convert the room into a storybook fun house, with a puppet theater and more Colorform characters and objects to plaster onto scenes from children’s classics “Goodnight Moon” and “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Farber came up with the idea for the playhouse, which is not open to the public, after visiting My Jewish Discovery Place with her class. She commissioned Shari Davis and Benny Ferdman of Creative Ways, who designed the acclaimed children’s museum at the Westside Jewish Community Center, to carry out her concepts.

It was an expensive project — $5,000 to build the structure, another $6,000 for the inside — but Farber did some creative fund-raising with a generous preschool parent body. And judging from the children’s response over the last few weeks, it was worth it, Farber says.

“This taps into the creativity and the imagination of a child, which is so natural for them at this stage,” she says. “This can take them to the next level — that learning is fun and exciting and interactive and experiential.” — Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

Baby Sitters No More

The first thing that struck me as PresidentClinton unveiled his $21.7 billion child-care proposal last week wasthat it was hardly noticed in our community at all. With the possibleexception of increased child-care tax exemptions, the nation’s firstpreschool package won’t touch the Jewish community to anyextent.

Let the Christian Coalition insist that womenstill belong solely at home. Our own community resolved the problemearly, and did it well.

For today’s young Jewish parents, synagoguepreschools are taken for granted. There are 65 preschools in LosAngeles, serving 8,000 children. Day care isn’t just for Mom’sbenefit anymore. We send our children to school even if two parentsare working in the home office. Why? Because our preschools aregreat. Our children take art, computers, science as soon as they’reout of diapers. They celebrate Shabbat and Jewish holidays, learnHebrew blessings, and identify the map of Israel as the heart of theworld.

No one calls it baby-sitting. We know it for whatit is: a godsend.

If you sense a “yes, but” in all this, here itcomes. Sure, we can take pride in schools that raise up happy,competent Jewish children. But we also have cause for shame –in thetreatment of our preschool teachers. Across the nation, Jewishchildren are being educated by teachers who get less respect than thesynagogue janitor.

Of course, money is an issue. Less than a decadeago, beginning early childhood educators in Los Angeles, with 12units of college, made minimum wage. The Jewish community does betternow ($9/hour), but every step up is a fight.

But wages are not the only issue. Our earlychildhood educators work under labor arrangements deemed punitive 50years ago.

They have no job security. They can be firedwithout cause, and there is no grievance procedure. They work withchildren, who are notoriously susceptible to every cold or flu bugflying around, but commonly have no paid sick days. They can bedocked for taking off the second day of the Jewish holidays.

These are the people who teach our children Jewishvalues.

Naturally, there are two sides to the story.Employment rights for teachers threatens synagogue budgets,especially if schools hire substitutes when teachers are absent.Moreover, preschool directors are still fighting for their ownprofessional dignity in a field commonly scorned as merely a “secondincome.” They correctly fear confrontation with synagogue leaders asinviting board oversight of their independent realm.

Our teachers are caught between competing forcesand have few advocates for their cause. Turnover among preschoolstaff is about 40 percent; our children’s teachers are voting withtheir feet against treatment that is just not Jewish. They will getjobs in corporate day care or public schools (if either the Clintonproposal or one by Gov. Pete Wilson passes), or will leave thepreschool world. All of us — especially the children –suffer.

“How can a Jewish institution in touch withethical values justify not treating its teachers decently?” Phelan C.Hurewitz told me. Hurewitz, while chair of the Bureau of JewishEducation, helped form the professional practices committee that hasjust developed a new code for preschool teachers. “These are basicrights.”

Here’s the rub: Teachers in day schools andafternoon religious schools are already protected under a similarprofessional code that has been in place for decades. These teachershave grievance procedures, sick days and even pension options;preschool teachers do not. Is it a coincidence that day- andreligious-school educators were mostly men at the time these rightswere granted, while preschool teachers are universally women?

“They change diapers, and they get treatedaccordingly,” one preschool advocate told me.

In February, the BJE will consider, and no doubtpass, the new early childhood code. It has already been subject topublic hearings and negotiation, under a committee headed by attorneyand former BJE chair Linda Goldenberg Mayman. The BJE has been anational leader in early childhood standards, practices andcurriculum; its school accreditation program is now being duplicatedin Miami, Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia. Now Los Angeles isready to lead again.

But once the BJE accepts the code, the real battlewill begin, as 65 synagogues decide independently, yeah or nay. Iftoo few schools are covered (the number not yet confirmed), the codewill fail.

If you belong to a synagogue, make sure your boarddoes what is right. Our educators do us proud. Now we must return thecompliment and give Los Angeles’ 1,500 preschool teachers the dignityand rights they deserve.

Marlene Adler Marks is senior columnist of TheJewish Journal. Join her Thursday evenings at 8 p.m. in AmericaOnline’s Jewish community chat room. Her e-mail address

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