Turning Challenges Into Oppportunities

“How have you turned challenges into opportunities?”  

As we approach the end of our first full school year since the start of the pandemic, this question resonates with me in so many ways.  

Any early childhood director would tell you this has been one of the most difficult years they have experienced. We spent countless hours establishing guidelines and continuously reviewing local regulations and our protocols to maximize emotional and physical safety. Many of the students were born during the pandemic, had rarely spent time in indoor spaces outside of their homes, and were never cared for by anyone other than their parents.  

Before reopening our Early Childhood Centers (ECC), we were confronted with so many questions and had mostly uncertain answers. We wondered how children and teachers would spend a significant amount of time wearing facemasks, how children would cope with school interruptions, and how they would react when expanding their social circle after being cooped up at home for so long.   

During our professional development week, we invited a mental health specialist to speak with parents and educators separately about psychologically preparing the children to come to school. We created social stories to read to the children and made space and time to talk and process emotions.  

As children arrived on the first day of school, there was a strong sense of relief and accomplishment for all we had achieved, coupled with a feeling of uncertainty. Educators anxiously studied their classroom space, consulted with each other, and sought creative ways to make the classrooms inviting despite COVID guidelines preventing us from using non-wipeable materials such as fabric. While somewhat worried, our families were still grateful to provide their children with some sense of normalcy. For the very first time, they didn’t get to walk their little ones to their classrooms and instead, said their goodbyes by the door. We administrators spent most of our first days checking on the children and informing parents through messages and phone calls regarding how their children were adjusting. Looking back, it is heartwarming to see how our ECCs have become a warm and safe space, a second home, despite the hurdles of the pandemic. The children who apprehensively entered the building on their first days of school are now skipping to the classrooms and greeting peers of all age groups along the way. 

Research shows that involving families in their child’s education significantly contributes to their growth. One of our biggest challenges was staying connected to families during their very limited “free” time and overcoming the tangible and invisible barriers of the pandemic. Carpool lines – while successful in promoting children’s independence – prevent parents from interacting with one another and with teachers and school leaders in the hallways. This loss is real, even as it comes with some benefits.  

A few weeks ago, we welcomed our families into the building for the first time this year. It was a special moment for all of us and timely as we celebrated Passover, a holiday of spring and hope. As flowers blossomed and trees bloomed, our hope was for our relationships to continue to blossom as well.  

At the end of the month, we will celebrate the end of the school year with all our families. Our Pre-K children and families will be part of a special celebration called Siyum as they embark on the next chapter of their journey. In Judaism, Siyum, Hebrew for “completion,” marks the end of a chapter and often refers to the ceremony highlighting that moment. As aligned with our educational philosophy, the children will be an integral part of the process and will contribute highly to the planning. They will reflect on the year with their teachers and think about the memorable moments they want to hold on to. Our clergy will engage in the meaningful ritual of Havdalah and bless the children. The parents will create a slideshow for the children and all together, we will cheer with a l’chaim to mark the moment.   

Challenges will always arise, and it is not always easy to perceive them as opportunities. It is only with time and with a strong support system that we can build emotional resilience and remind ourselves of our strength as the Jewish people have done for millennia, and as we are reminded in our Passover story.  

In our ECCs, we are blessed with strong foundations. A strong leadership team with complementary strengths who rely on each other and seek each other’s feedback. Educators who dedicate hours of their time to professional development and provide a quality education to the children. In Hebrew, there is a famous quote by Theodor Herzel, founder of modern Zionism,  

Im tirzu en zo aggadah,“ “If you will it, it is no dream. 

Over the past two years, we dreamed of bringing everyone together again in person. Thanks to our dedication and desire to make our schools a special place for our children, families, and educators, we’ve willed that dream into reality and made our ECCs a place where children can develop a strong identity, life skills, and create lifetime memories.