For many families, an unexpected benefit of belonging to the JCC and sending their children to the preschool has been the family tradition that develops from the experience. Besides the nurturing staff and daily specialties that include Judaics and Hebrew, music and movement, one of the most inviting aspects of the JCC Early Childhood Program is its family feel, maintained by generation after generation returning to the preschool so their children and grandchildren can experience the same joy they felt singing songs like “Bim Bam, Shabbat Shalom.”
Nikki Henry has been with the program, first as a teacher and now as the program’s Early Childhood Director, for more than 30 years. More and more, she has noticed preschoolers she taught as children coming back to sign their children up for the same quality education they experienced. “When I see them come back in the door, it’s fun to talk about what they remember. To hear them say it’s the same, that we’ve been able to keep that Judaic feeling in the program, that’s special,” said Henry.
That the Center has maintained the same Jewish traditions children grew up with more than 30 years ago is intriguing for families. “They want to be able to share that with their kids. Their kids are coming home singing the same Shabbat songs, like Mini Mac. They may have forgotten about the songs, but when they’re children start singing them, it brings it all back. That connection is still there. You won’t find that many places,” Henry added.
Henry remembers many, if not all, of the preschoolers she taught over the years. “We remember you when you come back through our doors. That’s because each child is special and has a unique ‘something’ that we really do remember. For us, to see how much they’ve grown and changed over the years is such a treat.”
One such child that Henry remembers, now a parent herself with a daughter attending the preschool on College Avenue, was Jenny (Meisel) Brown. “Nikki was one of my favorite teachers. I remember her being a really fun, caring teacher, and I can say the same about Emerson’s teachers. The most consistent thing between when I went and now is the commitment that the teachers have,” said Brown.
“I remember Jenny, too. That’s what I think is fun. The parents coming back get so excited to see their teachers. And teachers like Carol Highfield or Holly Somogyi, who have been here for over 20 years, they remember them. We really do have a history with this community. And we’re growing with it. We adapt to keep current, but our basic traditions always remain.”
One of the ways the JCC Early Childhood Program has evolved is through its adoption of Sheva. This latest JCCA initiative has been implemented by all three preschool sites. The name Sheva comes from the Hebrew word for seven, a number with deep, symbolic roots in Jewish tradition. JCC preschools nationwide are applying the seven core elements of this innovative new program to bring early childhood education to the next level.
Firmly rooted in the latest research on child development, these seven elements focus on children as constructivist learners, early childhood educators as visionaries, and families as engaged partners in their child’s education. The environment is utilized to provide inspiration for inquiry and Israel becomes a main character in the story of the Jewish people. One of the most exciting elements of Sheva is the children’s health and wellness program, Discover CATCH, which brings to life the concept of Sh’mirat Ha Guf, or taking care of our bodies.
Underlying all the innovative new programming is the continuing tradition. For example, Steve Rosenzweig came to the JCC preschool some 20 years ago and remembers Mim Chenfeld, who continues teaching movement classes.“It was a bit surreal walking back into the preschool. I hadn’t been there in many years, and I was surprised by what I did recognize and even more so by how much it has changed for the better,” commented Rosenzweig.
Rosenzweig also remembered the Jewish environment he experienced as a boy being very beneficial. It continues to be, he said, “not only to my daughter, but to our entire family. Over time I hadn’t realized how much I had forgotten about Judaism. But hearing my daughter’s rendition of ‘Oh Hanukkah,’ this past holiday season brought it all back,” he said.
Karen Rediger attended the JCC throughout her childhood while her mother managed the JCC’s Kosher Kitchen. Now both her children, Elijah and Naomi, attend. “It is nice to talk to people, like Nikki, who remember me as a child and then can compare my children to how I was at that age. I remember going to Heritage House as a young child and visiting the residents. My son does this currently and I appreciate that this tradition has continued,” said Rediger.
“I value the opportunity for Jewish tradition to be a part of my children’s daily education. I love watching them get excited when it is Shabbat or when they tell me about what they have learned about the Jewish holidays. At one point, my son even said he wanted to grow up and be a Rabbi,” Rediger continued.
Jenny Brown also values the preschool’s strong focus on Judaics, especially because she is raising her daughter in an interfaith family. “My husband is not Jewish, but we are raising our daughter to be. I attended one of the Center’s Shabbat celebrations, and it surprised me how quickly all of the songs came back to me. It is very meaningful to me that Emerson will grow up at the JCC learning about the Jewish holidays and traditions. I also love that Nikki, Taryn and the other staff know and recognize all of the kids. They will greet Emerson by name many mornings.”
Taryn Terwilliger has been at the JCC for over 25 years, working as its Program Coordinator the past 16. She echoed Brown’s words. “It’s my favorite thing. You just get to know all these families. They really become a part of your life. We always say, when our preschoolers bring their kids here, it’s like full circle. I remember giving a tour once, and the mom at the end of the tour mentioned she went to preschool here. I asked her what her maiden name was and I did remember her family’s name. I said, ‘There was one girl who used to always wear her hair in braids.’ She said, ‘That was me!’ and was so excited that I remembered her,” said Terwilliger.
“In my mind, the JCC was the only option for my children,” Rediger concluded, reflecting the opinion of many of the happy families whose children have attended and continue to attend through the years.
The caring, supportive atmosphere of the JCC Early Childhood Education program guides children from 6 weeks to 5-years-old through a curriculum designed to cultivate an intrinsic interest in and natural curiosity about Judaism and an understanding of Jewish values. Through a rich, cultural diet of stories, songs, and lessons on diversity, understanding, and empathy, the JCC preschool enriches young souls and teaches them the most basic of Jewish concepts.
To learn more or take advantage of limited time discounts during our Early Bird Registration period that begins February 24 and ends March 7, visit our website at http://columbusjcc.org/programs/youth-programs/preschool-daycare/ to download our online registration forms, or contact Nikki Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org or (614) 559-6290.