A Child-Centered Approach Rooted in Jewish Values at Brotherhood Synagogue
Merril Feinstein has been involved in early childhood education her entire professional career. Before assuming the directorship at Brotherhood, Merril was on staff at the All Soul’s School and the AJ Heschel School, both in Manhattan. She served at a mentor for students at the Jewish Theological Seminary and as a literacy staff-developer for the NYC Board of Education. Merril was a member of the education department at Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University. On the national level, Merril was involved in professional advocacy issues for early-childhood professionals as a staff member for the Coalition for Advancement on Jewish Education (CAJE). Currently Merril is working with the Bank Street College of Education and the NYC Department of Education in a joint effort to support teachers in the city’s Universal Pre-K classrooms. Merril holds a Masters Degree in Education from Bank Street College of Education.
Description of School Change/Innovation:
The Brotherhood Synagogue Nursery School is based on the social/emotional theory that children learn by doing. Through active involvement in their environment, children add pieces of information to what they already know, thereby generating new ideas about the world around them. Brotherhood Nursery provides an enriched, stimulating and safe environment filled with a balance of emergent child-initiated, child-directed and more structured teacher-directed learning experiences, offering children the opportunity to learn and grow in skills necessary to becoming autonomous, productive individuals.
All of this is accomplished through a Jewish lens. The Nursery's curriculum is full of opportunities to eat, taste, touch and sing about the rhythms and cycles of the Jewish year. Educators strive to imbue daily life with Jewish values, informed by the traditions of our ancestors.
"I appreciated the interactions between teachers and children - it wasn't forced and it allowed the children to play and interact in an authentic way"
- Grace Hakimi, Educator, Temple Beth Shalom, Roslyn
More about the Brotherhood Nursery School’s Innovation:
Brotherhood Synagogue Nursery School is housed in a beautiful historic building in Gramercy Park, NYC. While the architecture and decor takes you back in time, the early childhood program stands as a model for innovation in education and leadership in an enriching and stimulating environment. Merril describes herself as an "educator first" and uses that lens to make decisions on what supports children's learning. The classrooms and hallways are decorated with a less-is-more approach to materials. The environment features soft lighting, sound-absorbing carpet, and simplified creative storage strategies for materials in the classroom and hallways. Merril cultivates a culture that supports staff collaboration, reflection, documentation and shared input. During our visit she shared stories of working together with the staff to honor their ideas and feels together they've created the educational vision that they have today and noted “we physically changed our environment by getting rid of the 'visual noise’. Music doesn't always have to be on and stuff that's out should be for the children."
Merril selected teacher leader Katie Shea to participate in The Jewish Education Project’s Project LEAD initiative helping to support educators leading change initiatives in their schools. Through this initiative, Merril and Katie hope to have every classroom committed to their vision for a Reggio-inspired school. Merril will be visiting Reggio Emilia Italy in spring 2017 with other educators through their Paradigm Project affiliation. The synagogue believes in their vision and is funding the trip. Through Project LEAD, they seem to be moving forward with strong child centered learning in all classes.
Forward Thinking/Guided Questions:
In what ways are you setting the stage for your students to eat, taste, touch, sing and experience the rhythms and cycles of the Jewish year?
Take an very objective look at your classroom environment. Where can you see the ‘visual noise’ that Merril mentions is often distracting from the learning?
- Early Childhood
- Family Engagement
- Educator Training