The East Valley Jewish Community Center (EVJCC) in Chandler opened its Early Learning Center (ELC) in 1971 and currently has children from 6 weeks to 5 years of age enrolled. Next year will add kindergarten classes for the 2023-24 school year.
Pam Morris, director of ELC, said that after a number of inquiries from parents with children at the school about kindergarten options, it seemed like the right time to add one.
Parents told him of their worries when it comes to sending their kids from the safe environment of ELC to the big, unknown world of public and charter schools. They wonder if they will have the same close relationship with the new school, teachers, and even other parents.
Some parents whose children had started in ELC and progressed to larger schools even complained to Morris that the parents of their child’s new classmate had not responded to the birthday invitations they had sent.
“It’s a safe environment and their kids know it and feel comfortable,” he said. Parents also appreciate the ELC staff, who will be adding a new full-time kindergarten teacher. There will also be enrichment programs including movement, cooking, Israeli culture and Hebrew.
The new class will comply with ELC standards of no more than 1 to 12 student-teacher ratio and the curriculum will be aligned with and using Arizona kindergarten standards. With the help of the Arizona Tuition Connection, the new kindergarten class will also be free for those who sign up.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the fears of parents and ELCs into a more protected and valuable space, said Morris.
“We are a community and we found that we needed to expand the community and bridge the gap to those kindergarten years,” Morris said. “We will continue the curriculum and prepare them for the next stage of learning.”
ELC is open 7am to 6pm weekdays with pre and after school treatment options. It also offers camps during the summer and other breaks during the school year.
“This is a one-stop shop for a lot of parents,” says Morris. Parents can now take their kindergartner with them when they drop their younger sibling off and with after-school care, some will find they don’t have to leave 908 N. Alma School Road,” he joked.
At nearly 30,000 square feet, the EVJCC is sure to have quite a bit of space.
“Our pre-K children on average already have between 50 and 75% of the knowledge they will need at the end of kindergarten when they leave our pre-K,” says Morris.
The new kindergarten class will adapt to meet students where they are and take them to the next level by combining individual and differentiated instruction.
This isn’t the first kindergarten class the EVJCC has had. Years ago, East Valley Jewish Day School operated a kindergarten through sixth grade program. With the blessing of the EVJCC, it moved to the Beth Sholom Temple campus in the East Valley in Chandler and became the Desert Jewish Academy.
Morris said he doesn’t want to have a day school, and there are no plans to add a first grade.
“We are considering having kindergartens and another year of protected communities before children go to larger schools.”
Rather, this class is a way to soften the transition from what children and their parents know to the unexpected.
“Here is that kindergartner’s work; it’s because ‘my child is a baby and I’m going to put him on the bus?’ a piece,” said Morris. Parents aren’t necessarily ready to just drop their child off at school on the first day and then leave them in the schoolyard. At ELC, parents have an app that provides a constant connection with images and communication throughout the day.
“Parents feel like they’re almost touching their kids’ hands with this access to the teacher and then suddenly it gets cut off and they’re not ready,” he said.
Still, ELC is a school, and Morris asks parents to maintain contact with other parents and families but also to call and let staff know if their child is sick or visiting grandparents.
“We straddle the world of daycare and schools,” he says.
He is happy to provide this safe place for parents. It also brings back fond memories of her being a preschool teacher at ELC and there was a kindergarten.
“Being able to provide our kids with the next stage of learning and that safety and security for parents — I think that’s really important,” he said. J.N