When JCC North Director Ellen Kozberg became the lead teacher of the very first infant classroom the JCC offered in 1991, she had no idea it would become one of the largest full-day infant and toddler care programs in the city, growing to accommodate more than six total infant and toddler classrooms across three locations. Now in its 23rd year, the program has expanded so much that a new classroom was added in New Albany to meet demand.
But it all started with Kozberg, who is nearing her second year as JCC North Director, and who still to this day has a special place in her heart for the Center’s babies. “I just have a sixth sense about infants and a love of children. It was something new and sounded so exciting and was something I just wanted to do. I still feel that way. There’s just something about the babies,” said Kozberg of why she jumped at the chance to take on the challenge of leading such a new program.
Thanks to grant funding from the Columbus Jewish Foundation, the Early Childhood program on College Avenue was able to open its doors to the first classroom of infants. After a committee and a survey determined how best to meet the growing demand for infant childcare, the funds were then used to renovate and purchase needed equipment. A classroom designed specifically for infants was built in what is now the K-Zone in the lower-level of the JCC.
“There was talk about starting an infant program, and I jumped in and said I’d love to be a part of it. I helped with the very beginnings of setting it up.” Kozberg reflected on how quickly the program expanded. “At first we had only 6-8 cribs. We started with two teachers and pretty quickly went to three. We had a capacity for 12 infants at first, and by the second year we were at capacity.”
Nikki Henry, JCC Early Childhood Director, remembered that time. “We were looking to the future and seeing a lot more two-parent working families. Our program was all half-day. But we saw more and more families needing full-day care, so we started offering full-day preschool for children ages 2 and up. After seeing the success there, we then opened the Infant/Toddler classrooms,” said Henry.
“What’s nice about Ellen Kozberg coming back to the JCC North is that she has that experience to bring to the Infant/Toddler rooms there,” Henry added.
According to Kozberg, what makes the JCC’s Infant/Toddler program so special is that it’s like a family. “They’re very warm and family-oriented. We try to keep that relationship that’s so important to parents. The staff is a big family. Especially at the JCC North, all the children know all the staff, and the staff know all the children. Any teacher can walk into the infant room and the babies all feel very comfortable with everybody.”
Erica and Jill Twersky recently began bringing their infant son, Elias, to the JCC North. They toured the preschool and immediately fell in love with it. “Everybody knows you there. All the teachers know your name,” said Twersky of why she and her wife were first attracted to the program. “We liked that it was small. When we first walked in, everyone was really welcoming. And now, when I pull in the parking lot, Elias claps and claps; he just loves it.”
“We’ve told our friends we feel like it’s as close to having a family member watch your kids as you can get. They really care and they really pay close attention to him. They are very good about communicating, and that is definitely our favorite thing,” Jill said.
“It’s always been this way. Everybody I take on tour, the teachers jump out and introduce themselves,” said Kozberg of the 10 teachers who make up her staff, most of whom have been teaching there for over five years due to the site’s exceptionally low turnover rate.
“My door is always open. I chat with parents and help them with personal issues whenever needed. What makes us unique is that there’s a nice, soft-spoken, warm feeling, so that anyone who brings their child in gets that feeling that their child is going to be loved and taken care of that day. I always say, ‘I hope you’ll become part of our family,’ because it is a family, and it really does make a difference,” Kozberg added.
The JCC North is an extended, Jewish family, especially for those whose relatives may live out-of-state or for those for whom the JCC North is their primary connection to the Jewish community. It’s the program’s strong focus on Judaics that appeals to many, especially interfaith families looking to make Judaism a priority in their children’s lives early on.
This is the case for Jen Romanoff-Crichfield, daughter of Debbie Romanoff, a longtime teacher at the JCC North and former JCC North Director. Both of Crichfield’s daughters attend the preschool. Jordan is now in the three-year-old classroom with her grandmother Debbie Romanoff as her teacher, and Juliana is in the infant classroom.
“The JCC is a little bit farther for us, but for me, being in an interfaith marriage, it is very important for our kids to get that early exposure to Judaism. Jordan will come home and talk about Shabbat or sing the ha motzi or explain Purim or teach my husband about Passover. Even those little things she brings home and teaches us have really added to our family customs and traditions at home,” said Crichfield.
The JCC North Early Childhood Education program provides a comprehensive education for young children in a comforting, Jewish setting. Staff consist of creative and nurturing Early Childhood Educators who, through their education, the JCC’s commitment to continued early childhood training, and longevity with the program provide a “Best in Class” preschool experience.
The program was recently awarded a Three Star Ohio Step Up To Quality rating! The Three Star rating distinguishes our preschool as exceeding all the licensing requirements of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services, fulfilling additional requirements.
Our Early Bird registration for fall begins February 24. Now is the time to take advantage of special Early Bird rates and discounts. If you and your child(ren) would like to join the JCC North family or learn more about all the quality Early Childhood Programs offered by the JCC, including its exceptional Infant and Toddler offerings, contact Ellen Kozberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (614) 764-2414.