Investing in the future
Addressing the shortage of Jewish early childhood educators
At Yeshiva University, we recognized that one of the most pressing problems facing the Jewish community today is the shortage of qualified early childhood teachers. Compensation is often poor, and the perception that early childhood education is for the unskilled has led to a regrettable lack of dignity and sometimes professionalism of the field.
It is with great interest and excitement that we read about Project-412, the joint effort of the JCC Association of North America, Jewish Federations of North America and the Union for Reform Judaism to address the critical shortage of Jewish early childhood educators.
This effort perfectly aligns with our efforts. At Yeshiva University, we recognized that one of the most pressing problems facing the Jewish community today is the shortage of qualified early childhood teachers. Compensation is often poor, and the perception that early childhood education is for the unskilled has led to a regrettable lack of dignity and sometimes professionalism of the field.
Yet, studies have shown the dramatic impact of Jewish early childhood education, which not only touches young students, but also entire families. Whether through a day school, a synagogue or a JCC, it is, for many families, the formal entry into the Jewish community. Research by CASJE (Collaborative for Applied Studies in Jewish Education), for example, found that for most families, Jewish early childhood education and engagement increase Jewish practice and involvement.
It is with this understanding and a passionate commitment to professionalize the field and incentivize prospective teachers that Anita Zucker made a $5 million gift to Y.U. to establish the Anita Zucker Program for Jewish Early Childhood Educators. This funding is making it possible for students who are interested in early childhood education to become professionals without financial hardship, and it will lead the way in transforming the status of Jewish early childhood education.
An educator who taught elementary school for over 10 years, Anita Zucker is the CEO of The InterTech Group Inc., a North Charleston-based global manufacturing conglomerate. Her dedication to the field of education has resulted in initiatives across the country, from national institutions of higher education to local programs, projects and summits that have advanced and advocated for the field.
The Yeshiva University Anita Zucker Program will:
- Provide scholarship support to the yearly cohort of students in order to eliminate student debt among our early childhood educators.
- Develop and train mentors to support new teachers, advance professionalization of the field and bring dignity to the role.
- Sponsor students to the NAEYC Annual Conference, which gathers together early childhood educators from around the globe to connect, collaborate and learn.
- Publish a peer-reviewed annual Journal of Early Childhood Jewish Education to promote high quality scholarship and inquiry into early childhood Jewish education.
The Anita Zucker Jewish Early Childhood Program at Yeshiva University will bring 50 trained professionals into the field of Jewish Early Childhood Education within its first five years, affecting approximately 1,000 young Jewish families each academic year.
It is heartening that leading Jewish organizations and institutions are not only recognizing the importance of Jewish early childhood education but also investing in its future. By strengthening the education, training and mentoring of tomorrow’s teachers, we inspire them to consider a critical field that directly impacts students, families and their communities.
Miriam Hirsch, Ph.D., is chair of the Stern College for Women Educator Preparation Program and director of the Anita Zucker Program for Jewish Early Childhood Educators at Yeshiva University.
Selma Botman, Ph.D., is provost and vice president for academic affairs at Yeshiva University.