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Classrooms Without Borders

2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators in Jewish Pre-Schools

An Israel experience for early childhood educators is a crucial component in advancing the quality of Jewish early childhood programs in Pittsburgh. It is clear that such an experience would impact the way Israel is taught in Jewish early childhood programs. However, it is our feeling that Israel's connectedness to Judaism as a whole, and its links to virtually every other area of the Jewish studies curriculum makes the engagement with Israel a gateway to change with regards to the way one's own Jewish identity is defined, which will of necessity change the way one teaches all Jewish subject matter. Israel can be a prism through which the entire practice of Jewish early childhood education can be examined and reflected upon and studies have shown that teachers who have been to Israel bring more of their own experiences and feelings to their teaching, creating a more enriching experience for the children.

For non-Jewish teachers, learning about and experiencing Israel can sharpen and enhance their understanding of the goals of the programs in which they are working. Engaging teachers with Israel can change not only the way Israel is thought about and taught; it can be the starting point of a re-conceptualization of the practice of Jewish early childhood education.

Pittsburgh's early childhood educators are well trained from a pedagogic perspective. However, very few of them have actually visited Israel, and even fewer have engaged in any serious intellectual application of the topic to their own professional contexts. For many teachers, Israel is separate from their definition of Judaism rather than central to it, and is therefore taught separately and many teachers are ignorant of the cultural wealth of the Jewish people that is embodied in Israel.

The proposed early Childhood Educators' Seminar will also provide an exposure to the practice of early childhood education in Israel which can serve as an inspiration and resource for participants.

Many of Pittsburgh's Jewish Early Childhood programs have been exploring the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education and implementing key principles of the approach in their classrooms. This seminar will also provide an additional lens through which Israel and the Israel experience will be examined.

This will manifest itself in two ways:
  • A key principle of the Reggio Emilia approach is to build learning experiences on prior knowledge and capabilities and to allow learners to individually respond to the provocations which resonate most strongly and reveal their understandings using different modes of expression. Site visits and encounters will take into account what participants already know and know how to do and be structured to allow each participant to respond to what most speaks to them and to express their learning in a variety of modes. They will also document the experience and reflect upon it. In practical terms this means providing ample time to do these things and carefully choosing which aspects of a site to make visible and accessible. The understandings revealed by individuals and by the group as a whole will serve as the foundation for further learning once home.
  • During the course of the seminar, participants will meet Israeli colleagues and visit some programs that are inspired by the Reggio Emilia approach.
The objectives of the seminar are:
  1. To strengthen and increase the Judaic knowledge of early childhood educators through in-depth Jewish study and an experiential program in Israel so that they can transmit this knowledge to the children in their programs and their families.
  2. To provide early childhood educators with significant professional development and to empower them to more adequately fulfill their role as guardians of the pre-school gateway to Jewish life.
  3. To acquire firsthand knowledge of Israeli and Jewish culture.
  4. To participate in Israel-oriented, Judaic experiential learning activities over an extended period of time both prior to the trip to Israel and following it.
  5. To learn about and from Israeli early childhood education.
  6. To forge links and opportunities for interchange with Israeli professional counterparts

The seminar includes three distinct components: Pre-trip study sessions, the seminar in Israel and post-trip sessions.

Pre-trip sessions will be devoted to:
  • Reflection on current Israel education practices in participants programs
  • The Biblical connection to the Land of Israel
  • The connections between the Jewish festival cycle and the Land of Israel
  • Israel today
  • Goal setting and formulating individual instructional projects
The Israel seminar will include the following elements:
  • Sessions devoted to text study related to the Land of Israel, the Jewish calendar and Bible stories. Study sessions will be conducted immediately prior to site visits or on site.
  • Experiencing Israel through visits to the key historic locations on the Israeli map, visits to sites of significance in contemporary Israel and through meetings with representatives of Israel's diverse population.
  • Becoming acquainted with the Israeli early childhood system through visits to pre-schools and early childhood enrichment centers, as well as through meetings with Israeli colleagues.
  • Experiencing Israeli culture through the arts (plastic and performing).
  • Reflection on participants' experiences and the formulation of key issues to be addressed once participants have returned to Pittsburgh.Some of this processing will be done through interactive expressive activities.

Post-trip sessions will be geared to translating the pre-trip study and the Israel experience into practical applications in the pre-school classroom and in family programming.

For more information please contact Melissa:  melissa@classroomswithoutborders.org

Videos

2016 Early Childhood Educators' Israel Seminar

Educators 2016

What our participants have to say...

I fell in love with a family and their children. Broke bread at they're table and watched movies with them at night. Laughed at jokes, tried to be a translator and even got to see an old friend in Karmiel. These are moments that I will never forget for a lifetime.

Julie Lewinter / Teacher / Beth Shalom Early Learning Center
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

I think I have a lot more respect now for Israelis as a people. It's not that I lacked respect for them before this trip, but now I feel like I can relate to the mentality and can better explain it for those who do not yet understand it.

Rebecca Abramowitz / Teacher
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

The collaboration among teachers was such a vital part of the learning. Experiencing the sights and sounds of Israel was so much richer because we shared each other's excitement and reactions. The interaction with Israeli students was so natural, in spite of the language barriers.

Gail Schmitt / Teacher / Director at Adat Shalom Preschool
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

Teachers have to experience Israel in order to fully incorporate it into the classroom. I think I did a good job teaching about Israel before my visit, but I know that now, when I speak about Israel, it is with so much more depth, love, and passion. Sharing Israel now becomes natural in everything you teach, and this does not happen before visiting.

Gail Schmitt / Director at Adat Shalom Preschool
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

One of the greatest benefits of the trip was developing solid relationships with teachers within my own community. It's not very often that we have an opportunity to join forces with teachers from other schools within our community, but I am so inspired and moved by my experiences with women who have been living right here in my own backyard! I hope to continue to develop these relationships.

Rebecca Abramowitz / Teacher
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

I could never have fully grasped the perseverance of the Jewish people, the miracle of their existence, and the joy resulting in their survival and independence, even despite constant persecution, had I not experienced firsthand what the land of Israel looked like, what the people sound like as they tell their stories, and all of what the senses could take in through visiting the land itself. Listening to the candid story of a child of Holocaust survivors while at Yad Vashem was both heart-wrenching and liberating at the same time, and I will forever be changed because of it. My feelings of love and respect for the Jewish children that I teach will now be i nfused with a deeper love and respect for Israel, which connects all of us.

Rachel Reid / Teacher / TELC at Yeshiva
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

The Classrooms Without Borders Early Childhood Educators Israel Seminar gave breadth and dimension to my understanding of what Israel is. It answered my questions as well as sparked questions I would have never thought to ask; because I did not know what I was truly curious about. More specifically the trip provided an opportunity to get an insider's look into the Israeli classroom setting. I was able to see and feel how teaching young children to respect and appreciate the land and nature around them is valued and embraced in Israel. I would have never understood the full multitude of what this means without physically experiencing it with my own eyes.

Kelly Gumina / Teacher / JCC Squirrel Hill Educator
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

The people, the culture, the feeling you get from being in Israel, all of it teaches so much more about the history than any facts could. I connected to Israel, to the people, and to the Jewish identity, through this experience and the other participants, in so many ways that I never imagined were possible. It opened my heart, spirit, and mind and allowed me to understand so much more about Israel than I ever could have if I hadn't been on this seminar, and I am beyond thankful for this experience.

Jessica Pindzola / Teacher / Community Day School
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

A conversation with Tova Perlmutter deepened my connection with Israel. After learning that her grandparents were murdered at Auschwitz, that she was born in a DPW camp, she was married right after the Six Day War and gave birth during the Yom Kippur War, I said to her, "You are like a map of the history of the Jewish people." She responded, "But each of us is a map of the history of the Jewish people." 

Iris Harlan / Teacher / Temple Emanuel ECDC
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

I cannot express how important it is for teachers to have the chance to travel to Israel. If we are trying to provide the best quality early childhood to our children, then that includes instilling in our teachers the richness of the Jewish history and heritage. And Israel is such an essential part of this picture.

Gail Schmitt / Teacher / Adat Shalom Preschool
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

It's easier to bring Israel into the classroom more effectively after getting a refresher on the land, it's beauty, and culture. It was a reminder that this is our home and to continue educating our children so they have a sense of ownership as they get older.

Julie Lewinter / Teacher / Beth Shalom Early Learning Center
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

Learning about Judaism in a classroom setting is fine up to a point. We can read, look at pictures, listen to
dynamic speakers and believe we have learned a lot. When you supplement this education with a trip to Israel which provides educational tours, history, politics and social issues, your knowledge is solidified.

Sharon Reinherz / Teacher / The Community Day School
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

I heard some people on the trip say that they felt like they were "home" in Israel. I better understand this after having been there. Jews in the United States live in a place where they are the minority, the calendar and some cultural practices follow Christian norms. In Israel, even the secular preschools recognize and celebrate the Jewish holidays. Things that happen around them reflect a Jewish way of life/thinking. For example, in Jerusalem, many things were not open on Shabbat, all the hotel rooms had mezuzahs on the doors, washing stations were readily available at the hotels, etc. After experiencing different aspects of Israeli culture, I better appreciate some of the differences of being Jewish in America.

Nina Greenberg / Teacher / Rodef Shalom Berkman Family Center Preschool
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

The main theme I felt on our trip was that of CONNECTION -- to the past, to each other, to the land, to tradition. I hope to incorporate the sights, smells, and sounds as well as the communal experience in my classroom. I will continue to add to my classroom items that connect to the land of Israel and support the independent exploration and recognition of the image of the child as competent.

Pamela Stasolla / Teacher / Andat Shalom Preschool
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

If you want to teach about a place, if you want to help children feel connected to a place, the teacher needs to know that place and not just from a book or pictures. After visiting Israel, teachers will be able to bring back all of the sights, sounds, tastes, earth, and emotions that Israel has to offer. After singing Hatikvah with tears in my eyes in Independence Hall in Tel Aviv, standing next to the principal of my Religious School, I believe I made a new Israel-teaching commitment. I may never retire.

Judy Sheffler / Teacher / Rodef Shalom
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

The faces of the students will remind me of my trip. Although we couldn't photograph them, I will remember the children in the enrichment center cutting up real lemon and lime for their lemonade stand and pouring it into glasses with confidence. I will benefit from this collaboration because I'm hoping this memory will remind me to have the confidence in the children in my classes to let them explore and discover and manage delicate materials.

Julie Silverman / Teacher / Temple Emanuel
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

One thing I learned hands-on was how the people of Israel are so passionate about their land! They really love and cherish it. The warmth and caring they all portrayed to us while helping us understand how and why they reach the way they do could only have been seen on-site. I also enjoyed seeing the kids' independence and how it enriched their learning process.

Rachel Pekkar / Teacher / The Early Learning Center at Yeshiva
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

This trip changed my life. I experienced Israel fully, with all of my senses. I think I was falling into a comfortable routine with my work, but this trip revived my appreciation for what I do. I truly feel inspired to put more of myself into my teaching, especially when it comes to fostering a love for a place that once seemed so far away.

Rebecca Abramowitz / Teacher
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

The most important thing to take with me is the Israeli spirit -- the love for children, the love of the land, the love of Judaism, the pull to always move forward (as individuals and a nation). When you visit Israel you take it home in your heart, unlike reading a book or looking at photos -- that satisfies only the brain.

Michelle Dreyfuss / Teacher
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators

I supervise two staffs: 13 early childhood teachers and 16 supplemental religious school teachers. I cannot express how important it is for teachers to have the chance to travel to Israel. If we are trying to provide the best quality early childhood to our children, then that includes instilling in our teachers the richness of the Jewish history and heritage. And Israel is such an essential part of this picture. I, for one, would most likely not have been able to go to Israel either time without the wonderful support of funders whose contributions help to make this type of life-changing experience a reality for so many! Classrooms Without Borders, thank you from the bottom of my heart!

Gail Schmitt / Teacher / Director at Adat Shalom Preschool
2016 Israel Seminar for Early Childhood Educators