As communities around the country look to leverage the early childhood years to welcome families into Jewish life, a new report – Enhancing Jewish Learning & Engagement in Preschool Life – details how the Jewish Resource Specialist (JRS) Initiative in the Bay Area produced a growing, networked community of educators who have enhanced early childhood education experiences in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since planning began in 2008, the Early Childhood Education Initiative (ECEI) of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties (the Federation), in partnership with the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Initiative’s primary funder, have worked to design, implement, and evaluate this model.
“The JRS Initiative raises the level of excellence and prominence of ECE programs within the Jewish community,” says Denise Moyer-Schnur, JRS Director of the Early Childhood Education Initiative at the Federation. “In our community, 15 ECE programs now offer deeper Jewish learning experiences for their families and are engaging more families in Jewish life. We want to share our experience with other communities so they can consider adapting the Initiative model for their use as well.”
The JRS Initiative launched as a pilot, working from 2011 to 2014 with five Jewish ECE programs in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now in its second cohort with ten programs, the JRS Initiative elevates an ECE program teacher to a “Jewish resource expert” in order to support their school community – teachers, parents, and children. As a cohort, the Jewish resource experts, known as JRS educators, receive ongoing coaching, mentoring, and resource support to build Jewish knowledge and enhance the ability to create rich classroom and community experiences.
In addition to the ongoing support from the ECEI, the Initiative includes ECEI-sponsored conferences and webinars; days of learning and retreats; and an Israel seminar to deepen educators’ personal connection to Israel and empower them to facilitate a unique connection between their learners and Israel.
A separate, independent evaluation of the JRS Initiative pilot found that the JRS Initiative is linked to the following findings:
- More explicit integration of family programming and classroom learning
- Jewish content integrated into typically secular family programs
- More Jewish classroom content that is more meaningful and relevant
- Holiday programs that draw more deeply from Jewish tradition
- High parent satisfaction with opportunities to explore Jewish life
- New opportunities for teachers to explore Jewish ECE and to enrich their focus on Jewish education in their curriculum
- Teachers’ increased confidence in bringing Jewish content into the classroom
- Families participating in additional Jewish events around their community
- Parents choosing a Jewish educational framework for their preschool graduates
“We are intent on sharing every aspect of this model – from the goals, to the strategies and tactics, to its financial structure – because we know communities are searching for ways to deepen the Jewish ECE experience,” says Dawne Bear Novicoff, Assistant Director of the Jim Joseph Foundation.