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Rodef Shalom & Pamoja ECE Workforce Program

Interview with Dawn Spector, Director of Rodef Shalom Preschool.

Tell me about yourself and your role at Rodef Shalom Preschool.

I grew up in Queens, NY and went to school in both Israel and New York. I moved to Colorado after college and always knew I would be in education. I started as an assistant teacher and was encouraged to become a lead teacher for two-year-olds at Temple Sinai.  I really enjoyed my time as a teacher and was interested in the next step to become a Director. I pursued my Director certification and worked at Temple Sinai for 7 years before going to Rodef Shalom Preschool. I have been at Rodef Shalom for 8 years, first as the Preschool Director then as the Director of Youth Education, where I continue to mainly focus on the preschool educators, children and families.

Tell me about the Pamoja Project.

I learned about the Pamoja Project from the Efshar Project. It’s a work placement program for immigrants and refugees through Lutheran Family Services. Rodef is involved in social justice initiatives and is very supportive of refugees so it made sense to partner with them. The Pamoja Project provides free schooling and help with work placement in the early childhood education field.

How has the partnership addressed some of your school’s challenges?

We have hired two full-time teachers from the Pamoja Project and have been thrilled with the results. Our families were super excited to welcome them to the community. We have been looking for additional teachers so it’s been great to find qualified teachers who are excited to be at Rodef.

What have you found to be most rewarding about the partnership?

Having exposure to diverse staff and cultures has been very rewarding. Susan, who is from Kenya, teaches in the infant classroom and sings to the children in Swahili. Delice is from Rwanda and has taught the children so much about her culture.

How do you help connect the teachers to the core work of a Jewish early education experience?

Through training and mentorship, we have connected our teachers to the core work of a Jewish early childhood education experience. We were concerned they would feel out of place at first but they have embraced the Jewish culture and are eager to participate and ask a lot of questions.

How has the partnership impacted your school and families?

In addition to helping us with staffing challenges, our two Pamoja teachers are hard-working and have an amazing work ethic. Exposing our staff and students to new cultures has been very rewarding. It’s been amazing to see Susan and Delice develop their skills and confidence. I feel grateful they have also become friends. 

What would you share with other schools that may be interested in the program?

I highly recommend the program! It is important for our school to reflect on the diverse world we live in and celebrate our differences. Rodef Shalom is invested in anti-bias education not only for our students, but our teachers and our families. Our goal for the upcoming year is expanding our education around this subject and collaborating with the Pamoja Project is just one way we are accomplishing this goal.