July marked the initial gathering of the first cohort of the Sheva-Covenant Directors Institute. Sponsored by the Covenant Foundation in partnership with the JCC Association, this fellowship serves to connect emerging learners and leaders in Jewish Early Childhood Education, and provides a platform for study, discussion, and relationship building. It will also fill a need that JCC Association recognized through surveying the field: As more early childhood educators retire, there are few available to take their place.
The institute has brought together 20 educators across North America from diverse backgrounds, as well as varied years of experience and positions at their JCCs. Our cohort is filled with excitement and enthusiasm as each of us takes the next steps in our personal and professional journeys as Jewish early childhood educators.
Even though our journey has just begun, we have quickly grown to be a cohesive group. Our first night together as a cohort, we shared havdallah under the stars at the Capital Camps Retreat Center. We created our own besamim, or spices, by pressing cloves into oranges, taking in the sweet smell. We were given holographic glasses, and through their lenses, the Star of David embodied the flame of the twisted candle. As we challenge ourselves to see our experiences through a Jewish lens, these powerful moments will resonate with us. Although havdallah usually marks the separation of the sacred from the mundane, as we transition from Shabbat to the workweek, this particular ceremony marked for us a shift into the sacred space we will share together to enhance the holy work we do in our communities.
After a day of study, we were brought together by the joy of catching a firefly, something that several of our cohort members had never experienced before. This set the mood for the evening, capturing some of that magical feeling of childhood that we all try to keep alive in our work. Singing songs around a campfire gave us an opportunity to see our shared histories, and helped connect us to one another. A morning walk and meditation to the lake brought the beauty of a picture-perfect reflection of the trees onto the water. It is hard to ignore the metaphor of reflection as we consider the impact the Sheva-Covenant Directors Institute has already had on our lives, both personally and professionally.
One aspect of this fellowship that we are eagerly looking forward to is the opportunity to earn the national directors credential, Aim4Excellence, through the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership at National Louis University. This credential will address the necessary leadership and administrative skills that are essential for a strong early childhood director and the success of the early childhood center. While studying together as a cohort for this credential, we will cover topics such as supporting children’s development and learning, creating strong partnerships with families, recruiting, selecting, and orienting staff, and evaluating program quality. In addition, we will have the opportunity to learn from experts in the fields of early childhood and Jewish education, such as Cathy Rolland, director of early childhood education, the Union for Reform Judaism, who addressed advocacy for children through a Jewish lens, and Meredith Englander Polsky, of Matan, who spoke about best practices for inclusion in early childhood education.
This fellowship is particularly advantageous for the field of Jewish early childhood education because it offers an opportunity for up and coming leadership to hone their practices and skills, creating a cohort of connected JCC’s. As future leaders, we have been given the gift of time to explore our own personal Jewish journeys, allowing us not only to reflect from within, but also to create a vision of future Jewish growth for our institutions, communities, and early childhood centers.
We are indebted to the Covenant Foundation for its generous support of this fellowship, and to Mark Horowitz, Alison Pepper, and Mackenzie Noda from JCC Association for their extraordinary vision, leadership, and guidance as we embark on this journey together.
The three authors, Rachel Mylan, Zoe Miller, and Sarah Koffler, are early childhood educators at the Peninsula JCC, in Foster City, California, the JCC of Austin, Texas, and the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, Tenafly, New Jersey, respectively.