“WE DON’T UNDERESTIMATE OUR LITTLEST PUPILS”

SPECIAL FOR THE AJT

To keep pace with a flood of new applications for the coming year, Greenfield Elementary School of Atlanta Jewish Academy is expanding its infant and toddler program, doubling the space for the K’far section of the Infant and Toddler Village (ITV). Children between the ages of six weeks and two years will enjoy an entirely new room during the 2014- 15 school year, enabling the school to serve more children through this exceptional program.

Naturally, AJA’s Early Childhood Director, Carla Hotz, is delighted for the opportunity for her program to grow.

“I honestly wish I knew the exact reason why there’s been such an explosion of interest in the K’far,” she says. “However, I can identify several factors that I think help to make the way we care for our babies not only uniformly excellent, but a unique day care experience. I think that it may have to do with the fact that we see ourselves as more than just a day care.”

What do you mean, more than just a day care? How do you offer more?

“We give the infants and toddlers every opportunity we would give older children. We feel strongly about exposing them to as many different sensory experiences as possible, to stimulate them intellectually from the very beginning. As they start maturing and are able to benefit from them, they attend all the ‘specials’ we offer at AJA — story time in the library, music classes, exercise and games in the gym, use of our unique Imagination Playground, art classes—all specially modified for their stage of development and designed to widen their intellectual horizons. From the very earliest days of their lives, we always view them as capable, curious, and able.”

I understand that the K’far has been partially inspired by the Reggio- Emilia program that originated in Italy. How is that influence displayed?

“The Reggio experience encourages teachers to constantly offer stimulating provocations — we don’t underestimate our littlest pupils’ ability to learn. We also feel strongly about allowing the children time to explore and enjoy their environment.”

So you feel that the larger environment of AJA is a plus for the infants and toddlers?

“I think that because we’re part of AJA, we have a beautiful, spacious facility for them — and the exposure to older children is also a wonderful back to school asset. The younger ones receive love and affection from everyone they meet at school, as well as gaining examples and goals to emulate as they watch and interact with the older ones. This is an advantage for the older children, too — they are given the opportunity to show empathy and leadership. I also see every teacher in the Early Childhood Department constantly kissing, hugging, and loving the infants and toddlers every time they walk by. I sometimes pop in just to do that myself.”

You’ve been running the Early Childhood Department at Greenfield Elementary School of AJA for two years now, following several years of teaching there. How did that happen?

“I was actually very surprised when I was approached to take over when the previous ECD director left. They had been interviewing many other candidates and really doing due diligence to find a replacement, so I wasn’t expecting them to look at someone who was already there. However, I do understand their thinking, as it worked really well. After all, I had been in the ECD for years — I understood our model, I understood the benefits of the Reggio-Emilia philosophy, and of course, I understood and was able to continue the Hebrew immersion aspect of our program. It was just an easy transition for me. I thoroughly enjoy my new position, although I do miss teaching — so I schedule time with every class once a week, so I can teach them or engage them in an activity. I love the fact that all the children in the Early Childhood Department really know me, and they’re excited to see me. It gives me the opportunity to truly be part of their school lives.”

How do K’far caregivers compare to the larger AJA staff?

“They are as wonderful and skilled as our other teachers and the most loving people ever. I see each and every one of them acting as mothers and bubbies to our children. They are also truly professional; they are organized, they’ve created a wonderful routine and structure because children need routine and structure to thrive. They maintain a fantastic and constant line of communication with parents, often sharing photos and reports throughout the day. Our caregivers make the world of the K’far a loving, generous, exciting, and professional place.”

Due to the expansion of the K’far, Greenfield Elementary School of Atlanta Jewish Academy now has additional spaces available in the ITV day care program.

Editor’s note: For more information or to register, call Bonnie Cook at 404- 843-9900.

Leah Braunstein Levy is the author of The Waiting Wall, a Sydney Taylor Notable Book for 2010, and a contributing author to Kaddish, Women’s Voices, winner of a 2013 National Jewish Book Award in the category of Contemporary Jewish Life and Practice. Her work has also appeared in Highlights for Children.