Enhancing Jewish Learning & Engagement in Preschool Life
January 25th, 2018
Preschool is an extraordinary time of connectedness and openness for children as well as parents. At no other time will parents be so involved—so literally present—in their children’s schooling. During the early childhood years, parents reshape the way they spend their time, who they spend it with, and who they turn to as advisors. Children are also eager to learn and are developing socio-emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually.
To take advantage of this time in families’ lives, in 2011 the Early Childhood Family Engagement Initiative (ECFEI) of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties, with significant support from the Jim Joseph Foundation, launched the Jewish Resource Specialist (JRS) Initiative. The JRS Initiative is intended to make the early childhood years a true gateway into Jewish life for children and their families. With ongoing coaching, mentoring, and supports from the JRS faculty at ECFEI, a teacher or other staff member is designated to spend 10 hours per week as a preschool’s JRS educator. In this role they are tasked with deepening Jewish learning at the preschool and increasing family engagement in Jewish life more generally. The JRS Initiative is designed to help Jewish early childhood education (ECE) programs realize their commitment to build a Jewish experience and environment for children and families.
The JRS Initiative also addresses the dearth of leaders working to build the field of Jewish ECE. Those who want to focus on Jewish ECE and build communities of engaged Jewish families with preschool-aged children are challenged to find the support, mentors, and professional development opportunities they need to craft a career path. The JRS Initiative seeks to meet these field-wide demands by developing the skills and Jewish knowledge of small cohorts of JRS educators who then bring ideas and guidance to their schools.
The JRS model has demonstrated, over two cohorts of ECE programs, that it can effectively address these needs during a three-year cycle of grant funding, educational curricula, and corollary supports. Evidence from an evaluation of the JRS pilot and subsequent data collected in 2017 provide evidence of lasting change.