Denver, CO – January 20, 2015 – A groundbreaking effort is underway to help synagogue and JCC early childhood education (ECE) centers increase enrollment, better engage Jewish families and build stronger connections to the Jewish community. Led by Rose Community Foundation, the initiative – known as BUILDing Jewish ECE – involves a comprehensive partnership between the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) and the JCC Association, and is open to all nine Denver and Boulder synagogues and JCCs that have ECE Centers. Two URJ synagogues and two JCCs comprise the current cohort, launched in July of 2014; five other synagogues, including two conservative synagogues, will be part of a second cohort starting this summer when the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) joins the initiative. After years of research and planning, Rose Community Foundation says the time is right to focus on an area of Jewish education that is often neglected, yet presents immense opportunities to engage families and welcome them into Jewish communities.
“We must bring families into Jewish communities at formative stages of their lives and their children’s development,” says Lisa Farber Miller, senior program officer of Denver-based Rose Community Foundation. “The JCC Association, URJ, and USCJ recognize the importance of early childhood education and family engagement and that is why – for the first time ever – they are working so closely together. National leadership and local leaders of JCCs and congregations are all playing key roles in this truly collaborative, cross-denominational, cross-organizational initiative. Together, we can improve early childhood education and Jewish family engagement, and make these critical areas part of our national, communal agenda.”
Numerous studies demonstrate that parents, children, synagogues, JCCs and communities as a whole would benefit from stronger and more accessible Jewish ECE programs. Parents are more likely to be involved and invested in Jewish home rituals and celebrations as a result of their child’s own involvement in those experiences at ECE centers. The preschool years have proven to be a critical time in the development of a child’s personality and identity – including their religious identity. 85 percent of a child’s cognitive development is formed by age five, the majority by age three. Additionally, synagogues and JCCs would increase revenue with ECE centers that are integrated into the entire organization and are operating as effectively as possible.
Through the initiative, ECE centers receive ongoing coaching, training and guidance from the URJ, JCC Association and USCJ experts and others, along with a “Toolbox of Resources” to expedite long-term growth. This includes website, social media and search engine optimization audits, new software and database support to improve marketing, tracking and enrollment; marketing materials and action plans along with a “mystery shopper program” to test a center’s effectiveness when a parent inquires about or visits the school. All items are designed to increase branding, customer service, recruitment and retention. The services and tools offered as part of the initiative are valued at $92,000 per institution.
BUILDing Jewish ECE is a result of eight years of research and work conducted by the Colorado Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative Steering Committee, comprising four entities, including Rose Community Foundation. The committee supported a new Early Childhood Director at the Colorado Agency for Jewish Education, intensive professional development for teachers and directors, scholarships and financial support to ECE centers (including www.MazelTot.org), and a 2012 economic study that found that if Jewish ECE centers in the Denver/Boulder Area were operating at best practice standards, their congregations and JCCs’ revenues could increase $720,000 annually, an average of 11 percent.
Among numerous recommendations, the study explained that synagogues and ECE centers need programs, campaigns and marketing that create inclusive relationships with members and aggressively communicate what synagogues or JCCs offer to families. Rose Community Foundation designed BUILDing Jewish ECE as a response to the study and reached out to the Jay & Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Colorado, URJ, JCCA and USCJ to assist in this work as partners.
Rose Community Foundation and the partner organizations plan to share key lessons learned, curriculum and other important resources that result from BUILDing Jewish ECE. They note that other communities have similar opportunities to focus energy and resources on ECE and family engagement in new and ground-breaking ways.
Adds Farber Miller, “Early childhood education is one of the few times when Jewish communities have a demand-side economy working in their favor. In other words, many parents need and must pay for expensive early care and education for young children. Why, then, should we only attract a small percentage of parents with Jewish children into our ECE centers nationally? The ECE Centers in BUILDing Jewish ECE are really learning labs for the Jewish world, offering a model for building and maintaining relationship-driven institutions with high caliber marketing and customer retention systems.”