Literacy and cooperation
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Literacy and cooperation

Local day schools work together on teaching young children to read

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Eve Levi, Susan Scher, Lori Rutcofsky, Professor Mollie Welsh Kruger, Naomi Nussbaum, Lori Chasan, and Amanda Meller all were at the workshop.

A literacy workshop held recently for early childhood educators from area yeshivot and Jewish day schools was an opportunity for participants to share their ideas about teaching young students to read.

It also was an opportunity for them to break down barriers and join forces to raise the level of literacy across the religious spectrum of the local Jewish community.

Twenty-two participants from nine Orthodox and Conservative schools attended the April 26 lecture, held at the Gerrard Berman Day School, Solomon Schechter of North Jersey. Professor Mollie Welsh Kruger of the Bank Street College of Education presented the program, called “Literacy Workshop for Early Education Teachers.” The discussion that followed focused on classroom environment and its effect on reading.

“We invited Bank Street College to present the workshop and we offered it to the area day schools and yeshivas for those teachers in the early childhood divisions of their schools,” said Bob Smolen, middle school director at the Gerrard Berman School, who coordinated the workshop. “The idea was to promote literacy and early reading opportunities for young children by exposing the teachers to progressive approaches in early literacy education.” (Bank Street College of Education in Manhattan specializes in teacher education with an emphasis on early childhood.)

Literacy is the ability to read and write fluently. Promoting language and literacy growth are key elements in early childhood education, and current trends call for integrating them into every aspect of the classroom environment, from reading, math, and science to more informal activities such as baking, singing, and drawing.

“Literacy and environment are important elements, each on its own. Intertwining them is beautiful because that’s how we build the community of literacy learners,” said Kruger, who led the group in discussing how the two components work together to promote reading and writing.

The participants were experienced educators from schools in Bergen, Passaic, Essex, and Rockland counties. After Kruger’s lecture, they were divided into teams, and for much of the morning they shared ideas and discussed strategies to help children move forward in literacy. Kruger also presented a video about immigrant children from war-torn or impoverished countries who now, as students at a New Hampshire elementary school, made tremendous strides in literacy by learning how to tell their personal stories through art.

“Literacy is part of everything we do in the classroom,” said Eve Levi, a workshop participant who is a kindergarten teacher at the Gerrard Berman Day School. “It was very useful to hear from Professor Kruger and from our colleagues. It was helpful to me to know what works for other teachers and to hear how they integrate literacy into all parts of the curriculum.”

According to Lori Chasan, a kindergarten teacher at Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus, “Everything we do in our classroom involves literacy. It was great to collaborate with others, and I benefited a great deal.” One of the ideas she wants to revisit as a result of the workshop is reading chapter books to her students. “With chapter books, they have to remember details and call on prior knowledge from previous chapters,” she said. “It’s a way to build their attention span and expand their knowledge.”

While the main goal of the workshop was to prepare the educators to better help their students develop early literacy, another goal -“a close second to Professor Kruger’s presentation,” Smolen said -was to promote interaction between the educators, who come from schools across the Jewish spectrum.

“This was my first time at the Gerrard Berman Day School and collaborating with Solomon Schechter schools,” Chasan said. She has participated in professional development workshops with faculty members from other Orthodox schools, but none from the Conservative movement. “At the workshop, we were talking about literacy, not religion. We were all interested in the same thing: How do we make the best English-language curriculum we can for the sake of the entire community? We were all united in this and were all delighted to be there,” she said.

The workshop was conceived by Bob Smolen in response to the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey’s work to help fund yeshivot and day schools in its catchment area through its Create a Jewish Legacy program. According to Amy Silna Shafron, director of community relations at the Gerrard Berman Day School, the program encourages donors to help guarantee a strong, vibrant Jewish community by earmarking 10 percent of their federation gifts to fund local yeshivot and day schools across the religious spectrum.

“A workshop like the one Professor Kruger presented at our school shows donors that we can all work together in a spirit of collaboration,” Shafron said.

“Many of the participants at the workshop had never met before and they really enjoyed brainstorming together. Something like this shows donors that our community is united, that our schools can work together to better the future for everyone.”

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