Julie Wiener reports on the lively discussion ignited by Michael Siegal, the chairman of Jewish Federations of North America, who pledged to raise $1 billion over the next decade for a Jewish revitalization plan with tuition-free Jewish preschool as its centerpiece in his address to JFNA's General Assembly in Jerusalem last month. Many Jewish early childhood professionals don’t see free tuition as a viable or effective strategy.
At a meeting last week in Washington of the Alliance for Jewish Early Childhood Education, representatives of several national organizations that work with Jewish preschools discussed how best to leverage Siegal’s pronouncement — which he and Jewish Federations CEO Jerry Silverman also made in an Op-Ed.
In interviews with JTA, numerous Jewish early childhood leaders said they were taken by surprise by Siegal’s proposal. While they are eager to bring more families into their doors and wouldn’t turn down tuition subsidies, they told JTA that they would prefer to see investments made in program quality, professional development, teacher compensation and seeding more full-day programs that enroll not just preschool-age kids, but infants and toddlers.
Studies suggest that Jewish preschool can play a vital role not just in education, but in connecting families to Jewish community. A 2010 study by Brandeis University’s Mark Rosen outlined the high significance of the first years of a child’s life in cementing family patterns and friendships. Peter Blair, one of several Jewish early childhood educators who helped launch the Paradigm Project last year, says new parents are at a life stage when they are particularly open to connecting with Judaism.
In recent years, as many Jewish federations have restructured or eliminated central agencies for Jewish education, support and training for Jewish early childhood educators has been cut. In addition to serving younger children and offering more full-day options, advocates say preschool directors and teachers need more training, not just in educating tots and infusing Judaism into their curricula, but in connecting parents to Jewish life and helping them form friendships with other Jewish parents.
Read the entire article at JTA.