The Learning Journey:
An Introduction to Thoughtful Educational Development
An article about the APJCC Preschool by Eleanor Weber Dickman
Every weekday morning during the school year, the driveway in front of the school building on the Levy Family Campus is crowded with red safety cones, purposeful parents, eager toddlers with lunch sacks and happy faces ― everyone looking forward to another exciting and productive morning of learning, sharing, and growing with peers. This is the start of another school day at the JCC Early Childhood Education program, a preschool that has served young children for more than 20 years.
From 18-month old toddlers to 5-year-old preschoolers, children who attend the APJCC Preschool encounter “a quality developmental preschool program,” engaging teachers and parents in “developing the skills, values, and attitudes that help children grow to their fullest potential.” The school welcomes families from all backgrounds and promises “a sense of community based on respect for others,” cultivating a connection to Jewish values and tradition and welcoming families from all backgrounds.
Long-time Preschool Director Cyndi Sherman praises the school’s teachers and staff for the school’s success, noting that “Our teachers and staff really care about each child and take seriously the trust that parents have placed in us.” She is proud of the fact that her staff is “eager to learn, to stay current, and to embrace new and innovative programs.”
Just as their students do, the Preschool teachers are also continually learning. Models of excellence in preschool education came from the research of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), as well as the teachers’ own classroom experiences. “We know,” says Cyndi, “that children learn best through play and hands on experiences in an environment that is based on respectful relationships.”
The Preschool faculty is characterized by stability and dedication. Most of the teachers have been with the school for more than five years, with some 20-year veterans on staff. Teachers participate enthusiastically in strengthening the school’s educational experiences. It was a committee of interested teachers who helped craft the school’s “developmental philosophy statement,” which states: “The APJCC Preschool is a Developmental Program with a play-based curriculum. We believe that play is the work of children. Through play, children explore the world and form connections and relationships between people and objects in their environment. These connections and relationships are the basis of more formal education and learning in the future.”
Cyndi is proud that teachers and parents are, together, “dedicated to providing an engaging and stimulating hands-on experience for the children of the APJCC Preschool. In all activities, we emphasize the process of discovery.” Parent participation is welcomed. Parents can help in their child’s class, drive students on a field trip, help with projects, and planning school-wide activities. There are ongoing parent/volunteer-led programs, chaired by parents and run by a committee of parent volunteers.
“Grandpals Shabbat,” in which Pre-K children have the opportunity to form ongoing relationships with senior adults in the community. This award-winning program includes interactive projects and a shared Kabbalat Shabbat experience. “Project Cornerstone” has been adapted from a YMCA program that fosters the joy of learning through reading. Books chosen often include those offered through the PJ Library Program (sponsored in our community through The Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley), creating another sense of collaboration on behalf of all our children.
An Early Childhood Education Committee has been established which includes chairs of the school’s subcommittees, room parents, and other interested parent volunteers as a way, Cyndi says, “of getting feedback and help with various projects.”
For many Jewish families, the Preschool is often “that safe place to step back in” to exploring their own Jewish identity, their level of observance, and their connection to Jewish community.” Equally important, Cyndi believes, is the fact that the school has created “a safe, welcoming, learning and caring community for our families, both Jewish and non-Jewish.”
Between 30%-40% of the children attending the APJCC Preschool are not Jewish, but all families participate in helping out in the classrooms. Cyndi praises these parents who are “active on committees, act as room parents and volunteer for helping out in the classrooms. For some, the first time they are challah helper (helping the class bake challah) is the first time they are exposed to concepts of Shabbat. Many seem interested in the holidays and we provide information on an adult level for them. All support their children learning the Jewish values taught in our preschool.” Whether families are Jewish or not, Cyndi is delighted that they “have a deeper appreciation of the traditions and values that their children are learning while they are here.” Cyndi is proud of the “feeling of community that embraces the whole school.”
Being one of the organizations that is housed at the Levy Family Campus is a special joy for Cyndi, who delights in “the connection our families and teachers make to the broader community. There is always so much going on here that our families can feel a part of. There are resources when there are issues and support when needed. This campus is a great example to the children of expanding circles of community—their classroom, the preschool, the whole JCC, and the campus with its other agencies. It helps them understand that there is a wide community of people supporting them.”
The goal of the APJCC Preschool, says Cyndi, is “to provide a safe, nurturing and stimulating environment for all our preschool children while recognizing and appreciating their individuality.”
Parents interested in learning more about the preschool are encouraged to view our preschool web page and/or contact Cyndi Sherman at 408.357.7417.