Early childhood center poised to reopen

Early childhood center poised to reopen

Director says the JCC school will cultivate ‘independent thinkers’

Debra Frankel
Debra Frankel

It’s taken some time for the JCC of Northern New Jersey to complete its search for a new director and reopen its early childhood center, but now the wait is over. The school will reopen in September, Debra Frankel said.

Ms. Frankel will head the new childhood center.

“The decision to reopen was made a few years ago,” said Frankel. “It took some time with respect to the director’s search.” She noted that the JCC’s parenting center is already up and running “in the brand new facility, with a new space and new coordinator, Erika Ehrlich.”

That new facility, Ms. Frankel said, actually is the site of the original JCC, now the Bethany Community Center, at 605 Pascack Road in Washington Township. “All of the classroom spaces have been newly renovated,” Ms. Frankel said. “There’s brand new furniture, top of the line, and a brand new revamped curriculum.” The parenting center is for children from birth until age 2. The early childhood center will serve children from 2 through pre-K.

Ms. Frankel has more than 25 years of experience in the field; her undergraduate degree is from SUNY Purchase and her master’s degree, in early childhood development and education, is from Hunter College.  She’s been both a classroom teacher and a director; for the last 15 years she’s focused on curriculum development, teacher enrichment, and best practices in early childhood education.

Ms. Frankel said that the new early childhood center was spurred in part by a federation assessment that determined that “there was a need for more Jewish early childhood education in Bergen County.” She is working on a curriculum with the JCC Association. “We are going to be a progressive nursery school, where children are independent thinkers who cultivate their own knowledge,” she said.

“The curriculum will be emergent, based on the children’s interests. It will also have a social action component. Every month there will be a different hands-on social action project. It will be a collaborative effort between faculty, students, and families.” Ms. Frankel said she hopes that “we will have a vibrant parent association, where we will have monthly PA meetings and weekly meetings with chairpeople. We haven’t begun to formulate this yet, since enrollment begins the first week of January.”

The new school’s goal, she said, “is to provide the best-quality early childhood experience for young Jewish families.”

The program is based on the Reggio Emilia approach to educational philosophy. For the Early Childhood Center, this means that “children are active participants in their learning; children are provided with ample opportunity to touch, move, listen, see, and hear as they explore classroom materials; children are viewed as competent thinkers, problem-solvers, and builders of their own knowledge; teachers and children collaborate to identify paths of wonder and learning; and children are members of ever-widening communities, including their own classroom, the school, the JCC, and the world.”

The philosophy, she said, was created after World War II in Reggio, Italy. “It’s based on the understanding that there are over 100 languages that children speak,” for example, verbal or nonverbal, how they see things, how they express themselves, what inspires them, and so on. “Not everybody learns the same way,” she said. “We will provide learning opportunities that speak to all kinds of learners.”

The hands-on learning will not be the traditional “teacher-directed” model, but “intentional-play based. This is very different as compared to many other early childhood programs.” In preparing children for kindergarten, “the pre-academic components will be introduced in a way that is age appropriate.”

Ms. Frankel said she is “passionate about early childhood education and also working with families and faculty. That’s my skill set.” It doesn’t bother her when parents hover, “because I truly believe that when people send their children to nursery school, they” — that’s the parents — “are learning how to separate for the first time.

“It’s really scary. Building connections between home and school is really important. To build a true partnership, the parents have to trust us first.”

Jewish material will be taught experientially, Ms. Frankel said. For Chanukah, the JCC created an interactive “pop-up light museum, exploring Chanukah through the miracle of light.”

She noted that both indoor and outdoor play are integral parts of the curriculum. She pointed out that the new facility “offers a well-equipped outdoor play space with a new mud kitchen, sand box, as well as a soft blacktop area for outdoor games and exercise. On rainy days, the school will utilize its newly refurbished indoor gym area to promote physical exercise and cooperative play.”

Offerings include classes for 2-year-olds either three or five days a week and classes for 3- and 4-year-olds classes five days a week, with the option of before- and after-school care. Spaces in these programs are limited. Classes begin on September 4, 2019. School registration opens on January 7. For further information or to schedule a tour, call Debra Frankel at (201) 666-6610 or email debraf@jccnnj.org.

The new Early Childhood Center at the JCC of Northern New Jersey invites parents to an open house on one of the following dates:

January 3 at 7:30 p.m.

January 9 at 12:30 p.m.

January 11 at 9:30 a.m.

January 14 at 9:30 a.m.

January 16 at 7:30 p.m.

January 21 at 9:30 a.m.

January 23 at 7:30 p.m.

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