Early Childhood Educators — Coming Together for Our Kids

There is an enduring Jewish fable about a woman who was lost in the woods. When she finally found another person, she asked, “Can you tell which path leads out of this forest?” “I’m sorry, but I can’t,” the other person said. “I’m lost as well… But I do know that the way we have gone is not the way. So, let’s put our heads together, hold hands, and find our way out together.”

Of all the challenges we’ve faced through the pandemic, one of the most significant has been not knowing how to find our way.

Not just through the mental and emotional turmoil but in the most practical sense, how to proceed—step by step—in doing our jobs and meeting the needs of the communities we serve. And indeed, so many of our community partners have exhibited remarkable adaptability in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, but the ongoing accomplishments of our Bay Area preschool, day school, and early childhood educators have been nothing short of extraordinary.

Jodi Gladstone

“It’s certainly been a challenge,” said Jodi Gladstone, the Director at Beth El Nursery School in Berkeley. “We've had to really think of different ways to bring quality education and care experiences. And we had so many questions that didn’t have any easy answers. How do we meet our kids’ social and emotional needs? How do we deal with the fear that they have? How do we deal with the anxiety that their parents have in sending them back to school?”

With that heightened sense of their students’ and families’ evolving needs as well as a thousand other questions about the unprecedented, ever-changing situation they found themselves in, Jodi and many other early childhood teachers and directors sought answers within their own community of Jewish educators.

“One thing that we were able to do that helped tremendously was share information and collaborate with other nursery school teachers and directors,”

said Jodi, who was an active member of the Federation’s East Bay Director’s Forum and stepped up her involvement when the forum expanded to serve early childhood educators and directors across the entire Bay Area. “Janet Harris (the Federation’s Director of Early Childhood Education and Family Engagement), Denise Moyes-Schnur (Federation Jewish Resource Specialist/Senior Early Childhood Educator), and Adam Lowy, (former Federation Jewish Resource Specialist) who is now at Beth Shalom, provided us with a wonderful forum to come together and figure it out. Of course, they didn’t have all of the answers – none of us do. But they really helped guide us and it has been amazing. We have monthly meetings, professional development, and real opportunities to learn from one another. And I would have never been able to get through this without the other directors and the Federation’s help.”

Tamar Lai

“One of our big challenges was helping families afford tuition considering how hard the pandemic has impacted them financially,” said Tamar Lai, Early Childhood Education Director of the Osher Marin JCC. “In light of that, the Federation’s emergency scholarships enabled a lot of them to return to school. And we were also able to purchase some much-needed outdoor equipment to be able to expand our outdoor classrooms and hire an additional staff person, which, given the new requirements, was something we really needed and wouldn't have been able to originally budget. And that was huge.”

While supporting early childhood education efforts is certainly a Federation priority for increasing engagement in Jewish life, the heroes of this story are the educators themselves. Rather than succumbing to fear and self-doubt, they have chosen to come together in selfless, creative pursuit of our shared ultimate goal: a vibrant future for our children.

To date, the Federation has provided: financial support in the amount of $800,000 for preschool scholarships, $1,020,000 for re-opening costs, bi-weekly forums for directors, educational classes and trainings for preschool teachers (16 sessions per year), sponsored a Virtual ECE Conference, provided mentor/lab programs for young adults entering the field of Jewish Early Childhood Education, and offered individual coaching and consulting for directors and teachers.

View all the COVID-19 response grants to learn about many of the ways we are helping our community through this pandemic.


February 22, 2021


Jon Moskin