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Reflecting on Year One of Being “ElevatEd”

The 2023-24 school year marked the inaugural launch of ElevatEd – a national initiative and groundbreaking partnership between the JCCA, Union for Reform Judaism and Jewish Federations of North America, to impact Jewish Early Childhood Education through teacher recruitment and retention. We are beyond grateful to our local and national funders that made this initiative possible: Shana Glassman Foundation, Evan and Evie Makovsky, Bender West Foundation, Cintra Pollack and the Jay and Rose Phillips Foundation of Colorado. National funding is made possible by the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Crown Family Foundation, and Samuels Family Foundation.

I have the great honor of serving in the role of Community Coordinator for the Boulder/Denver community – one of only five communities selected to pioneer this initiative and courageously tackle ElevatEd’s ambitious mission.

Community Coordinators serve as the liaison between the community and the national team, led by Elevated Executive Director, Orna Siegel and Senior Director of Education and Engagement, Sasha Kopp Hass. Our role is to support our valued school leaders in navigating participation in ElevatEd, from teacher selection, to staffing support during curriculum classes, and everything in between. Each pioneer community is unique and diverse – Boston, Long Island, East Bay (San Francisco), Houston and Denver/Boulder. As community coordinators, we are the voices of our unique communities, advocating for the specific needs in our schools, and cultivating a meaningful experience for our educators.

The Efshar Project and ElevatEd team is proud of the efforts of the 11 mentors and 10 emerging educators who dedicated their time and committed to deepening their practice with the guidance of the curriculum partners: Jewish New Teachers Project for Mentor Teachers, and K’ilu Company with Jonathan Chapman, Family Therapist Dr. Erika Bockenck and Teaching Beyond the Square with Jennifer Carvajal.

The curriculum classes made a lasting impact on emerging educators who are new to Jewish Early Childhood Education. Isabella El Nabulsi, of The Garden Preschool in Denver, reports making many changes to her classroom environment as a result of her ElevatEd classes:

“In my 4-5 year old classroom, I have implemented loose parts as well as created a Reggio environment. I was nervous going into the process as I am used to my environments being super organized and minimal. I was able to push that aside and make my classroom more inviting and cozy for the students. I have a cozy corner tent, loose parts table, more nature, and have created a YES environment. Without restricting the student’s curiosity and ability to learn, I organized the room in a way where they have just enough material and access to what they want to play with. Rather than saying “No, you can’t use that” or “No don’t touch that” the students are in a place where if it is out and made accessible to them then, “Yes, go for it!”. I wanted the children to feel and know that this is THEIR classroom, with their toys, and their centers where everything is here for them.”

There have been big shifts to Isabella’s teaching experience as well. Isabella commented on the supportive environment of the ElevatEd community:

“As a teacher, my biggest shift this year has been a positive shift, where I have been given a safe space to learn and speak. Through my years of teaching, I have always had the support of coworkers, directors, and my significant other but having a place to talk to someone who is not directly at my school and who is a professional with experience has helped so much. Not only has the ElevatEd team been there to listen to me and teach me, but teachers all across the country have become a huge support system through this year of teaching. I have been able to learn from teachers sharing their similar experiences or by getting things off my chest and receiving advice. I believe ElevatEd created a community where we were able to rely on each other for support in a very safe space, without ever meeting each other in person. I am grateful to have been a part of this community.”

The mentoring component supported selected mentor teachers in expanding their typical role as classroom teachers to focus on becoming mentors who support reflection and model best practices for their mentees.

Nadia Polozova, a lead teacher at Temple Sinai Preschool has fostered a wonderful relationship with her mentee, Lena Kutseba. Nadia also reflected on the positive environment and feeling of being a part of a larger community:

“I would love to say that both of us, Lena and I, are so incredibly happy to be in the ElevatEd program and would like to say thank you for this opportunity! I feel as a Mentor I learned a lot especially from the experienced people around all of America! This is amazing because before the program we had the opportunity to interact with the teachers from our Denver/Boulder community only. Lena grew up incredibly! She has opened up a lot throughout the program, and feels more confident in Judaism history and holidays as well.”

Melinda Stevenson, a mentor from The Garden Preschool stated:

“As an early childcare teacher/mentor participating in the Elevated program this year, my biggest shift has been in enhancing my leadership and communication skills. The program has equipped me with strategies to more effectively guide and support my mentee, helping them to develop confidence and competence in their roles. I’ve also learned advanced techniques for observing classroom interactions and providing targeted feedback that is both supportive and developmental. This focus on mentorship skills has allowed me to have a more meaningful impact on the professional growth of the mentee  I am working with, ultimately enriching the learning environment for the children in their care.”

As this first year of ElevatEd comes to a close, our cohort will take a break over the summer, then resume for one additional semester focused solely on the mentor/emerging educator relationship. We are simultaneously launching a second cohort of educators in August who will be starting the program from the beginning with the curriculum partners listed above.

The second cohort, also known as the “1B” cohort, was born out of the ElevatEd national team’s dedication to recruiting new educators. By the time the first cohort in ElevatEd launched last year, many communities had missed the recruitment window to bring new educators into the Jewish ECE space. “1B” is an opportunity for the pioneer communities to benefit and experiment with new recruitment strategies.

ElevatEd is training directors and bringing cutting edge technology to help schools successfully recruit new teachers. ElevatEd brought JazzHR, a job posting platform, to all ElevatEd communities, including all directors in the Efshar network. We are proud to announce that the first ElevatEd hire in the nation through this partnership with ElevatEd came from Temple Sinai Preschool.

Directors and HR managers aren’t the only people who will benefit from this recruitment effort. ElevatEd is launching a referral bonus campaign that will pay $500 to educators currently working in one of the Efshar Network schools, who refer teachers that are ultimately hired.

We are looking forward to celebrating the year-long learning commitments made by our ElevatEd community of educators, mentors and directors on June 10th, 2024 at the Colorado Photographic Arts Center where we will “cheers” to a successful year of learning and growth across the network. I am so proud of the Boulder/Denver community for modeling bravery and dedication to the field of Jewish ECE with our participation in this incredible opportunity. We are leading the charge alongside our 4 pioneer communities, and I continue to be inspired by the directors, mentors and emerging educators who have committed themselves to this sacred work.