JCC Association of North America has recently launched Sheva, an early childhood education framework that strives to raise the level of excellence in the ECE programs offered by JCCs through facilitated learning communities. Early childhood directors from all over the continent were first introduced to the new program at the JCCs of North America Professional Conference, which took place in March in Orlando, Florida. There were 84 participants from an astounding 64 JCCs in attendance, representing the diversity and far-reaching influence of JCC early childhood centers.
The conference also served as an opportunity to honor Mark Horowitz, vice-president of early childhood education and family engagement, for his leading role in planning and initiating the program. “It’s amazing to be at the end of a process, but also at the beginning of a process,” announced Jeanne Lovy, director of early learning at the JCCs of Greater Boston, as she presented Horowitz with a commemorative artwork designed by Jeremy Kortes, senior graphic and multimedia designer.
Alison Pepper, assistant vice-president of early childhood education and family engagement, noted, “It was thrilling just to spend the week studying together with JCC early childhood educator leaders–we speak a common language and hold sacred the same core values.”
Central to Sheva is the idea that the success of early childhood education depends not only on the teacher educator, but on the combined efforts of everyone involved in the program, including the children, families, and especially the program directors. The eight learning communities that were established at the conference will meet virtually on a monthly basis to study together using the program’s seven core principles, which include: learning about children as constructivist learners; encouraging early childhood directors to be visionaries; supporting early childhood educators as professionals; seeing families as engaged partners; using school environments as inspiration for inquiry; incorporating the importance of Israel into educators and children’s Jewish learning, and using the Discover: CATCH program to set a precedent for a lifetime of exercise and healthy habits, all while inspiring children to think critically and take an active role in their education.
Sheva also hopes to serve as a more comprehensive set of goals for existing JCC preschool programs and increase interest and parent participation in preschool programming. Its programs are shaped by new research on brain and child development in the preschool years; Pepper explained that the goal is for JCC ECE programs to “go beyond where they are now…[as] there have been advancements in the field of childhood education.”
Sheva is innovative not only in its use of recent child development studies, but in its utilization of digital resources to foster a community and an exchange of ideas among JCCs across the continent, which will benefit everyone involved. These include plans to hold facilitated monthly discussions among conference attendees through Google Hangout, in order to continue building professional relationships across JCCs, and webinars broadcast from the New York JCC Association office. The program also will launch a series called Sheva Talks, in which presentations by various expert speakers will be recorded and put online to serve as a resource. Topics will include staff supervision and organizational, leadership development , which becomes increasingly important as preschool programs continue to expand.