A recent influx of young Jewish families in Fox Chapel has created both an appreciable need and an exciting opportunity, said Shternie Rosenfeld, co-director of Chabad Fox Chapel.
The need, she said, is for a quality all-day preschool program to serve the children of all those Jewish newcomers. So, armed with her passion and background in education, she is seizing the opportunity to create a new preschool at the Chabad facility on Old Freeport Road, with extended hours to accommodate working parents.
“I’ve been here 12 years,” said Rosenfeld, who is originally from London. “It’s never been like this. In just the last four or five years — and specifically in the last year — so many young Jewish families have been moving to Fox Chapel.”
Rosenfeld said she has made it her mission to get to know each new Jewish family that moves to her community.
“As I was meeting with them, I learned that a lot of them were sending their kids to non-Jewish preschools or going into the city,” she said. “There is a big void and not a good option for working Jewish moms in Fox Chapel.”
While many Jewish families utilize the well-regarded preschool program at Adat Shalom in Cheswick, it does not work for everyone because it does not offer a full-day program.
Rosenfeld said that for her, opening a preschool was the “natural next step” after having worked for more than a decade to help create a strong community for young Jewish families in the area.
“It just makes sense,” said Rosenfeld, who has 17 years of teaching experience.
The new preschool, which will launch in the fall of 2015, will be based on the Reggio Emilia philosophy, according to Rosenfeld, who will serve as the school’s director.
And the Reggio Emilia philosophy, Rosenfeld added, “fits right in with the Jewish philosophy.”
The shared philosophy stresses educating a child in accordance with his or her own needs.
“A child has so many innate qualities, and our job is to bring those to the [educational] process,” Rosenfeld said. “It’s very much about using the environment and what the child has innately.”
The new preschool, which is called the Gan Early Learning Center, will begin with two classes, one for ages 15 to 24 months, and the other for 2- to 3-year-olds. Classes will be offered from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., although parents can opt to send their children to the program for typical preschool hours of a shorter duration.
Dubbing the school “Gan,” Rosenfeld said, is appropriate because the word means “garden.”
“Every child can blossom and grow, and together we can create this amazing community,” she said. “These are the most fundamental years. These experiences will impact them forever.”
Rosenfeld has education in her blood. Her parents ran a Jewish day school in England, and of their 14 children, half are teachers.
“We are enmeshed in education,” Rosenfeld said of her family. “We believe in the strength and ability of children. And the way we start their early education builds their foundation forever. We want to make sure that every child has a really strong foundation.”
To that end, Rosenfeld said her preschool’s curriculum will focus on character education, including the development of empathy, self-regulation, and teamwork.
Rosenfeld has already hired an educational support facilitator, Valerie Wecht, who holds a master’s in education from Duquesne University and is certified in school counseling.
“I believe building a strong sense of self is undeniably important at an early age of development, and I’m thrilled to be a part of the process,” Wecht said.
Although the school has not yet launched, parents in the area have already shown interest in enrolling their children.
Sarah Weissman, whose fourth-grade son has enjoyed summer camp at Chabad Fox Chapel, is enthused about the prospect of the new Jewish preschool for her 2-year-old daughter, who currently attends a program in Squirrel Hill.
She bemoaned the limited options for full-time care in Fox Chapel.
“I’m very excited about Shternie’s school,” Weissman said. “It will be really convenient. And it sounds like Shternie has really done her homework. From what I’ve seen of the camp, she doesn’t do things just a little bit.”
The Gan Early Learning Center will be the first Chabad preschool in Pittsburgh, according to Rosenfeld, and the school will be open to families from around the city.
“We’re only 12 minutes from Squirrel Hill,” she noted.
For more information, visit theganelc.com.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.