New Opportunities to Join the Equal Start Volunteer Team
Beth Am’s Equal Start social justice initiative is recognized across the state as an “uncommon champion” for promoting universal access to early childhood education (“ECE”) – a goal very synergistic with the value we, as Jews, put on learning. Unfortunately, despite strong support within our congregation, many congregants interested in participating in Equal Start have found it hard to fit a regular commitment into their busy lives.
To meet this challenge, the Equal Start team has been developing new relationships and volunteering opportunities that are more flexible, short-term and varied. Thus, in addition to the ongoing Equal Start activities for working with young children in preschools or engaging in advocacy for ECE, Equal Start has created several new options that enable more congregants to get involved in programs compatible with their interests and schedules. For example, you can read to young children for a few hours once a month with the Story Time program at a Sunnyvale community center or, working once or twice a month for two hours as part of a small team, you can support Foothill College faculty teaching innovative classes in Redwood City where adults are embarking on new careers in ECE.
Our activities are all linked together by the desire to make ECE available to all children in the state of California. This goal is strategic. As Professor Debra Stipek of the Stanford School of Education has observed, “Children who attend high-quality preschools are less likely to be retained in a grade or placed in a special education setting. They are also less likely to become involved in crime and more likely to graduate from high school, go to college and achieve higher earnings.”
When Beth Am chose to focus its Equal Start social justice initiative on early learning, we quickly decided to work with preschools in East Palo Alto. In doing so, we were addressing one of our major goals: Building strong bridges to neighboring communities. Our presence in East Palo Alto has enabled us to become more sensitive to changes in communities and to develop an appreciation for nitty-gritty challenges that must be surmounted. For example, the Ravenswood School District, reacting to effects of gentrification and immigration enforcement issues, closed the Child Development Center (the “CDC”) where Beth Am had several volunteers as classroom aides. Fortunately, the County of San Mateo and local foundations stepped in, identified new management for the school, and the preschool was back up and running in less than two months. Laura Cohen, who has organized our presence in the preschools in East Palo Alto, recently visited the newly re-opened CDC. She happily reported that the new director, Jina Ereca, is friendly and enthusiastic and would love to have more Beth Am members volunteer there. The rooms are freshly painted with new flooring and furniture and great new areas for play and learning.
If any of existing or new Equal Start volunteer opportunities are of interest to you, or you just want to learn more about Equal Start’s rewarding work, please contact Mel Kronick at email@example.com or visit betham.org/equalstart.
Ellen Schwartz, Beth Am Equal Start volunteer at the Creative Montessori preschool in East Palo Alto for more than three years, summed it up nicely: “I feel that I have made a real difference in the lives of these preschoolers, giving them learning experiences they will always remember! Being with them is definitely a highlight of my week!”