By Dr. Tamar Andrews
Our future entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, and philanthropists begin their educational journeys not in the halls of esteemed universities, but in classrooms of our local early childhood education (ECE) programs. ECE catches students during one most critical inflection points in their lives. Usually between the ages of two and five, these students enter our classrooms at their most malleable. Their brains are primed to pick up new languages, develop successful habits, and internalize the Jewish values our community cherishes. With the right early childhood educator, these programs lay the groundwork for a successful academic career and for an intellectually fulfilling life rooted in Jewish tradition.
Yet, for those of us in the field of Jewish early childhood education, the ground has often felt dry and barren. It has felt as though we lack the necessary infrastructure to sow the seeds of knowledge in our students and the requisite resources to fully realize our vision of including all Jewish families in our instruction. And this goes beyond financial funding.
Early childhood education is hungry for investment in the future leaders of our community. Teachers are the capital.
Teachers are the backbone of every Jewish educational institution in our nation. We need teachers in early childhood education who have deeper and stronger academic backgrounds. We need to transform how educators acquire the skills to manage classrooms and centers, successfully work with families, and incorporate Torah, mitzvot, and traditions into daily lesson plans.
Teachers who are well-educated and empowered can show the way. They have the sharpened tools necessary to understand child growth and development, guide the inclusion of every Jewish child in our programs, and embrace every Jewish family in our community.
During this unprecedented and challenging moment, American Jewish University (AJU) graduated its first cohort of the early childhood educators from its MA in Early Childhood Education (MAEd in ECE) program. The field of Jewish early childhood education now has 18 new pillars to ensure that families have access to high-quality early childhood education. They are the flame and warmth of our programs, making our Jewish early childhood programs sought-after models of quality and professionalism in our communities.
The MAEd in Early Childhood Education at AJU is a unique program that seeks not just to confer degrees, but to raise the quality of ECE institutions and programs. Our first graduating cohort is already pursuing this mandate. They have developed a critical assessment tool for all Jewish early childhood programs, which will be available this summer. Many of our students have taken leadership positions in local Jewish programs and have accepted appointments at the university level. They are already working to make positive changes.
Now, the new opportunities for high-quality early childhood education rooted in Jewish values will be made even more accessible, as AJU rolls out its first of its kind, online Bachelor of Arts completion program in early childhood education this fall. As the first completely online accredited degree that the University is offering, the program is built to equip early childhood educators to-be with the knowledge to advance Jewish wisdom in an evolving world while offering a flexible, two-year path to their degrees.
Accessibility is the cornerstone of AJU’s Graduate School of Education, which houses this new program and offers one of the few ECE programs in the country that has a Jewish focus. At a moment in which we desperately need high-quality, well-equipped early childhood educators, AJU’s program removes barriers to entry into the field – all while providing future teachers with the tools to inspire and engage the youngest members of our community at the start of their Jewish education and Jewish journeys.
These educators will play a central role in ensuring the Jewish future. It’s time we empower them to excel in their roles with cutting-edge programs that raise the industry standard.
Dr. Tamar Andrews is the Director of Early Childhood Education Training Programs at American Jewish University in Los Angeles. Dr. Andrews is a veteran Jewish early childhood educator who also directs the preschool at Temple Isaiah.