Whoís watching the teacherís children while the teacher is watching yours? Itís not just the teacherís problem but the communityís, as well. Young teachers who are also young mothers have frequently left their profession because of the frustrations and costs associated with childcare.This September at SAR ó the Salanter Akiba Riverdale Academy in the Bronx ó the community responded by opening what is thought to be the first on-site day care center at a Jewish day school.ìI havenít heard of this being done elsewhere,î says Rabbi Marty Schloss, director of school services for New Yorkís Board of Jewish Education. ìThis innovation is important. People who care about Jewish education are going to have to come up with something to counter the tremendous loss of teachers who are having children.îThe program opened with the new school year, four adults caring for 11 infants and toddlers in two rooms renovated over the summer precisely for this purpose. The center includes one large room, full of new toys, primary colors, and stylized furniture dividing the space into play areas, and several tot-sized toilets in a Lilliputian bathroom. A second glass-walled room features its own controlled lighting and encloses a nap area for a half-dozen cribs. Some of the babies are as young as 3 months.The day care center, adjacent to SARís lunchroom, and a few steps from its synagogue and offices, is easily accessible for visits by parents between teaching periods. Ilana Gottlieb, a seventh grade Chumash (Torah) teacher with a 9-month-old baby, begins her four-hour teaching day at 8:30 a.m., bringing her baby to the center which opens at 8 a.m. ìI usually stay for the first 10 minutes. The other day, between periods, I ran over to just look through the window. I have one 45-minute free period, so Iíll stop by, instead of calling home and hoping someone will pick up.îSAR subsidizes the program, with teachers paying $450 a month, and $350 for those whose children attend half-day. Gottlieb says, ìI know teachers who stopped teaching after having a baby because itís just not worth it financially after the amount you have to pay a full-time babysitter. Iím now paying slightly more for a month what I used to pay a part-time sitter for just one week. Financially, thatís a real help.îThe center is under the auspices of Marcia Jacobovitz, administrator of SARís Early Learning Center, and is directed by Terry Scharf, an SAR parent who previously directed a Riverdale day care group that, in its time, funneled more than 150 students to SAR. The center is benefiting, as well, from Jayne Beker, president of SARís board of education, who for a decade has been the consulting psychologist at the Bank Street College of Educationís day care center.Beker says, ìThe idea came up during our board of education meeting last year,î and because of her professional role at Bank Street, ìI kind of naturally fell into the role of overseeing the project. Iíll be as hands-on as they want me to be and need me to be.îThe curriculum, says Beker, is based on ìthe social and emotional development of infants and toddlers.î There is also a Jewish component, considering this is for the children of yeshiva teachers. Jewish childrenís music plays alongside standard childrenís cassettes, and Scharfís staff is fluent in Hebrew, as that is the mother tongue of several toddlers. The staff will introduce age-appropriate Jewish concepts, such as blessings, Shabbat and holidays to the older toddlers, who range in age up to 22 years.ìThis is what our community should be doing for Jewish educators, many of whom have large families,î says Rabbi Joel Cohn, SARís principal, who has seven children of his own. ìAt a time when the community faces the crisis of attracting and retaining Jewish educators, hopefully this will become a routine benefit that we can provide.îSAR has won the U.S. Department of Educationís prestigious Blue Ribbon Award, the top honor for a private school, but nevertheless, says Rabbi Cohn, the issue of child care was creating a problem. ìWe had many stories of teachers who would have babysitting problems, or a baby sitter that was suddenly leaving, or didnít show up. ... We were losing too many teacher days over this. More than that, we were losing morale if teachers were constantly worrying about child care.îSharon Sturm, who teaches Chumash and Jewish studies in fourth and fifth grade, had a baby boy last January and returned to the classroom eight weeks later. She deliberated about her future, waiting for confirmation about the opening of the day care center before she could commit to return for the new year. Now, she says, ìIím thrilled. I go over during lunch, or when my class would be in gym or music. Ö I know that friends of mine, teachers in other schools, would be more likely to stay in teaching if this were more widely available.îGottlieb adds, ìMany baby sitters are nice, of course, but you do hear stories and you wonder about what goes on when youíre not home. It makes me a better teacher; work is so much more relaxing when I know my baby is with me, and taken care of. I think other yeshivas are going to jump on the bandwagon.î Jonathan Markís e-mail address is jonathan @jewishweek.org
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