Collaboration brings Beth El Congregation and JCC together

Collaboration brings Beth El Congregation and JCC together

Beth El Congregation’s Early Childhood Program (BENS) has begun an unprecedented collaboration with the Early Childhood Department of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, South Hills branch.

The collaboration includes the JCC’s provision of consultation support to help Beth El refine its management of BENS, which transitioned about two years ago from a preschool to an all-day educational center.

Leaders from Beth El initiated the collaboration with the JCC, according to Dan Garfinkel, branch manager of the South Hills JCC.

“They (Beth El) knew they had issues they were wrestling with in their early childhood center, and they thought we could be a resource for them,” Garfinkel said. “We have a fairly sophisticated financial model of management.”

Facing challenges of enrollment and management of its fledgling all-day center, Beth El turned to its more experienced neighbor for help.

“It was clear, when looking at how we were running our business, that when we converted to an all-day program, we required a different approach to management,” said Andy Schaer, Beth El’s education vice president. “We thought the JCC could provide its expertise.”

“For a JCC and a suburban congregational school to be working together is somewhat groundbreaking, and definitely necessary,” Schaer added.

Beth El and the JCC will collaborate on teacher training beginning this summer, as both programs are accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and participate in the Keystone STARS program that recognizes continuous quality improvement efforts of early learning programs in Pennsylvania.

The JCC will also be introducing Beth El to its nationally recognized “Ethical Start” curriculum, based on the teachings of Pirkei Avot — Ethics of the Fathers — for both preschoolers and their parents.

The JCC is receiving no monetary compensation from Beth El in exchange for its consultation services, Garfinkel said.

“To be a partner is part of the vision, certainly within the JCC,” Garfinkel said. “We are involved with community building, which does imply collaboration beyond organizational lines. We work with other organizations for a shared goal. We want to build a strong Jewish community in the South Hills.”

Beth El and the JCC are open to the possibility of a more involved collaboration in the future, according to both Schaer and Garfinkel.

“We are thinking and talking about a multiple site center,” Garfinkel said. “But both parties would have to be comfortable with that.”

“The future is difficult to predict,” he continued. “But regardless of the outcome of this particular initiative, it has been a very fruitful relationship, building a model for collaboration. It’s been a really positive thing for both organizations, and a confidence-building way to talk about our respective goals together.”

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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