During the COVID-19 closure, the J’s Early Childhood Center remained busy connecting with children and families virtually. We may have closed our doors on March 18, but these dedicated teachers and specialists never stopped working. Teachers immediately sprang into action. Facebook pages were created, Zoom meetings were scheduled and video phone calls became the new normal. Teachers spent hours on the phone speaking with students sharing how much they miss the kids. We believe the time talking with them was beneficial for all involved. Parents would schedule a video call for their child or classes met on Zoom two and sometimes three times a week. It was important that the kids see their teachers and classmates in order to maintain their community and to stay connected with their friends. The breadth of topics covered on Facebook posts proved amazing and endless. Faculty created posts, often live or recorded video for story times, sing-alongs, science and nature experiences and so much more.

There were also Havdalah and Shabbat live recordings on Mondays and Fridays that were posted. Teachers posted Hebrew lessons and sign language lessons, as well as Baby Doll Circle Time. One class at SFC began a regular Zoom meeting during lunch a couple of times a week just for the conversation and to stay in touch. Every other week, a parent group began meeting via Zoom, without children, just to talk about child raising, connecting and to provide support for each other. These were facilitated by one of the toddler teachers. 

Jody has also noticed how teachers pop in online to attend Shabbat and say hi to each other in the Facebook comments. “It shows we really miss each other, too!” she said. Debi Porfidio, ECC Director at the Marilyn Fox Building, also has seen a shift in communication, but one that was truly embraced with love and affection. She says her staff has really embraced virtual learning. The teachers have been great at staying connected with children and families to ensure that everyone still feels like a part of the J community. Each classroom has done weekly zoom meetings to keep this connection strong. “Our teachers and specialists have been sharing great virtual learning content daily, including cooking, judaics, yoga, music and science, as well as read alouds, dance parties and classwide show-and-tell. A highlight of this time was our families and teachers coming together on their own time to celebrate each other,” Porfidio says.

Teachers and parents at Fox have even reached beyond the screens to allow the children and staff to see each other, at socially allowable distances, even if only for the briefest of moments. One classroom organized a drive by parade to all of their students’ homes. Parents from another classroom organized a parking lot parade/party to honor their teachers at the end of the school year. There was even a Pre-K celebration in the J’s parking lot where the teachers made yard signs for their graduates, and remained at the J to cheer them all on as they drove by.

As the J slowly reopens, it is so gratifying to see the smiles and eagerness of everyone to be together again. Our transition back to school has been incredibly smooth, and all kids are back now if they want to be. As the children have been returning, Rubin feels like they spent months preparing for their arrival. While learning as they go will remain necessary, what’s most important is creating a safe environment for the children and teachers. This includes everything from new procedures and protocols to more extensive cleaning and sanitizing. In preparation, both directors say the J’s Buildings and Grounds staff have been amazing in the preparation.