Stephen Wise Free Synagogue Balfour Brickner Early Childhood Center
Director: Lori Schneider
30 West 68th Street, New York
Award: Outstanding School Leader
Describe your school’s core educational philosophy.
At the Stephen Wise Early Childhood Center, we believe that children learn by doing. Play is at the heart of the learning process, and through play our children are encouraged to explore their environment, make their own discoveries, interact with their teachers and peers, and work with a wide variety of materials. Jewish identity is important to our philosophy. We work to infuse Jewish values into everyday life as well as finding meaningful ways to celebrate Shabbat and holidays. Our philosophy of teaching is inspired by the world-renowned schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy. Our director, assistant director, and many teachers have attended study tours to Italy to learn about this remarkable and innovative approach to education.
Tell us about a few of the school’s achievements or distinguishing programs.
The teachers at the ECC are at the heart of our school. Our professional development model utilizes our staff as our best resource. A Leadership Team of teachers and administrators sets goals for professional development and works with staff in small group learnings every other week. Other small groups of teachers tackle issues such as how we document and assess the work of our children. Many schools throughout the country visit the ECC each year to see how the Reggio Emilia approach has inspired our practice as well as to see how Jewish values are interwoven into our school philosophy.
Our rooftop renovation has created an environment that fosters the physical development of our children. A unique climbing structure provides many opportunities for gross motor development and endless possibilities for fun. An area for gardening will provide an opportunity for children to plant vegetables and herbs and gain an understanding of the natural world. A soon-to-be-built water play area will give children the opportunity to explore and experiment with scientific concepts in a hands-on manner.
What do you love about your school?
I love that our children take risks and think outside the box. They have theories about how the world works and begin to form their Jewish identity at the ECC, feeling pride in their heritage… I love providing the support that is necessary for the foundation of learning. The joys and challenges are the same. Providing the foundation for each child’s education is an awesome responsibility.