Making Children's Work Visible at The JCC in Manhattan


This Site Visit Journal will help you understand one particular community's approach through the eyes of their educational leaders.

Saul and Carole Zaber Nursery School at The JCC in Manhattan, New York NY

Reggio Inspired School Change

December 2012; Update 2016

Illana Ruskay-Kidd, School Director

JCCC Ilana Ruskay Kidd

Ilana Ruskay-Kidd has been working at the JCC since 2001 and has been the Director of the school since 2006. Ilana received her BA from Harvard University and a Master’s Degree in Education from Bank Street College. After being inspired and trained at Central Park East in Harlem, she became a co-founding teacher at the Ella Baker School, an alternative public school in Manhattan. She then went on to work as an Early Childhood Curriculum Specialist for the Children’s Aid Society where she developed curricula with directors and teachers in day care, Head Start and private nursery school programs throughout the city. Ilana began at The JCC in Manhattan as the Director of Young Families and then became Senior Director of Family Life, supervising programs serving families and children ages newborn to eighteen years old.

Description of School Change/Innovation:

The Saul and Carole Zabar Nursery School at The JCC in Manhattan is a progressive preschool that embraces families from all backgrounds and cultivates a connection to Jewish values and tradition. Teachers work collaboratively to create environments and experiences that spark wonder and creativity, build confidence and skills, allow children to explore materials, and encourage a questioning mind. Families are partners in the work that they do, joining with children and teachers to celebrate Jewish life and learning.

The staff views the environment, classrooms and common spaces, materials, bulletin boards, and print materials as powerful tools for learning. Children use their physical world in a myriad of inventive ways, finding pathways for self expression at every turn, transforming the everyday into moments of wonder.

Teachers facilitate this process by working collaboratively as researchers, guiding and following the interests of the group. We support children’s learning, connections with one another, their achievements and their points of view by making their work visible through many forms of documentation. Daily reflections, journey binders, small booklets, visual narrations on the walls and videos provide windows into the world of the children at school. This documentation helps teachers, parents and children understand and deepen the learning at school, as we think collaboratively about children’s learning.

JCC Manhattan group of teachers

Staff Quote:

"Her message to educators was clear: don't give up. Take tiny baby steps to get to where you want your school to be. Lots of little changes over time add up to big changes, and can have an huge impact on your school and community. But you, the educator, have to be the change agent."

More about The JCC in Manhattan’s Innovation:

The nursery school at the JCC of Manhattan is a progressive preschool that embraces families and cultivates a connection to Jewish values and tradition. Teachers work collaboratively to create environments and experiences that spark wonder and creativity, build confidence and skills, allow children to explore materials, and encourage a questioning mind. As a passionate leader, Ilana has made that happen and she has cultivated a cooperative and inclusive educational environment among her staff. She believes the ongoing professional learning with and among the teachers is an essential ingredient for an innovative and inspiring school.

Aspects of The JCC in Manhattan’s efforts incorporates a variety of basic principles including the role of parents, the role of space, the value of relationships, the power of documentation and an emergent curriculum. Together they can become a powerhouse set of ingredients for a progressive school, but good educators know too that journeys take time and focusing even a few of the basic principles can begin the process that improves the quality of the institution and ultimately the lives of children and families.

JCC Manhattan hallway

Site Visit artifacts & Reflections:

Site Update:

After the conclusion of the 2012-2013 school year, long-time school director Ilana Ruskay-Kidd departed the school to serve as the visionary founder of Shefa, the first pluralistic Jewish day school for children with learning disabilities. Noah Mencow Hichenberg became the school’s director in summer 2013, after having taught for five years in our program for three-year-olds and serving on the school’s Leadership Team. Noah now offers his own spin on in-site-ful journey school visits, by welcoming educators to the school to see new innovations in practice. And in Summer 2016 the school hosted the first annual Come Learn With Us Conference for educators from throughout the tri-state area (and beyond) to discuss topics such as socio-constructivist learning, creative use of materials, Jewish texts informing classroom community, Reggio Emilia philosophy, and gender in the nursery years.

Forward Thinking/Guided Questions:

  1. In what ways is your leadership influencing the continued learning journeys of your staff?

  2. If little changes can add up to bigger changes over time, what little changes are you ready to put into place towards the larger vision of the school?



  • Educator Training
  • Early Childhood
  • Family Engagement