Tiferet Bet Israel in Blue Bell has brought back its own preschool for this school year.
The return of this preschool, called the Leonard and Madlyn Abramson Early Childhood Education Community, is a relief to families who had children enrolled at the Lokoff Abramson Early Learning Center, operated by Federation Early Learning Services, which was located at TBI and closed in June.
Dara Friter is a TBI congregant who had two children enrolled at the FELS school who will now attend the newly reopened TBI preschool school.
“As a parent, it’s important for my children to have a Jewish education foundation, and I believe that if you start early, it sticks with you,” Friter said. “As a parent, it was important for me to have them in the synagogue, having exposure of the Jewish traditions and culture and the Hebrew language and so forth. As a congregant, it’s important because it will only help to increase exposure to the community, what we can offer and attract membership as well.”
TBI had an early childhood community for many years, said ECEC Interim Director Brandi Lerner, but a few years ago, when they were in need of a new director, they learned the nearby FELS branch was coming up on its lease. The two organizations made a business decision to combine forces: The FELS center would lease space at TBI, replacing TBI’s own preschool.
In March, the FELS preschool announced it would close some of its classrooms due to staffing shortages. A few months later, the preschool announced it would shut down entirely.
“They made the decision right around Memorial Day to announce that they would be closing their doors June 21,” said Lerner, who has a background as a special education teacher and serves on TBI’s diversity and inclusivity task force. “We worked our tushies off and submitted our application to the state on the same exact day and moved mountains and were able to get our inspection. And we passed our inspection and we defied all the odds.”
Reviving the TBI preschool in time for the new school year, which began Sept. 3, has been no easy feat. Starting a new school is a process that can take months, so the synagogue went into the process knowing that the school would likely not be approved in time. But only three weeks after sending in the application, TBI received a date of inspection and then got approved.
The set-up process has been aided by more than 50 volunteers, most of whom do not have children at the preschool, Lerner said. These volunteers assembled furniture, spackled holes and repainted walls. A congregant’s daughter-in-law, Laura Bray of Mural Dreams, even brightened the rooms with murals.
More than $200,000 was raised for costs such as teachers’ salaries, professional development, new furniture, paint and more. Some of that was raised through a Dine and Donate campaign, through which restaurants participated in a profit-share with the synagogue to get the preschool off the ground.
“The fact that we were able to do all of this and the support we had from so many people is astounding,” Lerner said. “It truly does take a village and we have a great one and everyone knows that. That’s why they’re all pitching in to help make it successful.”
The school will have a new sensory room for children who might need a change of scenery, and a makerspace for children to create and be imaginative. The preschool is also reviving an outdoor nature classroom.
Rabbi Danielle Parmenter, TBI’s rabbi of congregation learning, had her daughter enrolled in the FELS preschool, and “it’s just like a dream come true” that she will be at the TBI school for this year.
“I’m probably one of the only people who didn’t put a deposit down somewhere else,” she said. “I just felt that there was a silver lining here and that they made the announcement on Purim, which is the holiday of expecting the unexpected, where things are falling apart all around you and there’s a greater holiness deep inside.”
More than 30 children, ranging from 3 months through pre-K, have enrolled. The majority of the families were enrolled in the previous FELS school, Lerner said.
The presence of a preschool, Lerner said, is a benefit to the synagogue.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t say that it will be a phenomenal feeder long-term into the synagogue because people make that connection when their children are little,” she said. “Although they may not join immediately after they finish preschool, we see that they tend to come back once they are religious school age. But it’s just about community building, and a religious institution without an early childhood program has a short lifespan.”
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