Ohev Shalom of Bucks County and FELS have joined forces, giving children in Bucks County a renewed opportunity for high-quality learning from the start.
Next to the chicken versus the egg debate, one of the great unanswered questions has to do with education. Specifically, just how early does a child begin to learn?
With that — plus a number of other things in mind — Ohev Shalom of Bucks County and Federation Early Learning Services (FELS) have joined forces, giving children in Bucks County ages 6 weeks and up a renewed opportunity for high-quality learning from the start.
For FELS, which has been in operation for 105 years, it enables it to branch into the fertile Bucks County territory for the first time since 2001. For Richboro-based Ohev Shalom, which has seen a declining enrollment among families trickling down to pre-schoolers, it’s a chance to provide quality education at a critical time in a child’s development.
“This is going to be a win-win for all our programs,” said Ohev Shalom Vice President Lindsay Miller, who helped set up the initial meeting with FELS more than a year ago and has played an integral role preparing for the transition since.
“We’ll have their knowledge base. Their background. Their quality of being an established program,” she said. “We didn’t really understand why FELS wasn’t in Bucks County, where we have a wonderful, vibrant community. We’re really thrilled.”
The feeling is mutual for FELS, which began its Early Learning Center (ELC) operations at Ohev Shalom on Aug. 29.
“Working with Ohev Shalom has been delightful,” said FELS President and CEO Maddy Malis, who’s been with the organization in various capacities more than 45 years. Ohev Shalom President Rachel Saks “and Lindsay have been on the front line with me and are so committed to a smooth transition overseeing the ELC.
“They couldn’t be more available and responsive. Ohev Shalom reached out to us about a year or so ago and asked, ‘How come you’re not running our program?’ They knew we were operating in synagogues and knew of our reputation and expertise in early childhood programs.”
That set the wheels in motion, which required several meetings between the parties to hammer out the details, then Ohev getting approval from its board. While there was never a point the project seemed in jeopardy, there’s certainly relief now that it’s actually happened.
“There’s always doubt when you’re moving forward with anything new to make sure it will be a mutually beneficial alliance,” explained Miller, who has a professional background in education, “but from the first time we spoke, we shared their excitement and realized from the get-go they recognized us a site of premier Jewish learning.
“There were a lot of meetings and collaboration on both ends, but we’re very pleased with the outcome.”
So is FELS, which points to an obvious advantage setting up shop in a synagogue rather than having to create something from scratch.
“It makes good business for both of us,” Malis said. “FELS certainly has the expertise and has owned its own building for many years.
“To partner and collaborate like this gets us out of the bricks-and-mortar business. Why buy a building or pay rent when we can partner with a facility that has rooms and resources that can be used to provide high-quality early Jewish education for the community we serve?
“Collaborating with a synagogue is much easier than starting from scratch.”
Ohev Shalom is the second synagogue to begin an affiliation with FELS this year, with Tiferet Bet Israel in Blue Bell coming aboard in February. The addition of Ohev Shalom gives FELS nine locations in the Delaware Valley, serving Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware and Bucks counties.
Already Ohev Shalom, which will maintain the majority of its previous ELC staff — they’ll work in conjunction with its clergy — can see the benefits.
“One of the biggest changes is we are open more days than before,” said Miller, who indicated this will be a five-year agreement. “And that’s starting with our infant center at 6 weeks.
“Before it had been at 3 months. That’s a huge difference for families who have two working parents. They can feel comfortable leaving their baby in such a well-established environment.
“You’re talking to an educator. I know firsthand what quality education can bring. We’re all excited about having them join us.”
One thing they’ll find out about FELS programs is that no two are alike.
“Nothing’s cookie-cutter about any of our FELS programs,” said Malis, who emphasized that FELS follows all state minimum requirements and often exceeds them, with all its programs licensed according to state regulations. “We take on different characteristics depending on the facility and the staff.
“Each center has its own personality. Teachers and directors are encouraged to be innovative and implement things based on the children they’re serving.”
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