Washington, D.C. – Amy Meltzer, lead kindergarten teacher at Lander-Grinspoon Academy in Northampton, was one of three exceptional Jewish educators to receive The Covenant Foundation’s 2015 Covenant Award last month. Meltzer and her fellow educators were honored for their dedication, inspiration and vision by hundreds of thought-leaders, colleagues, philanthropists, students, family and friends, who gathered at the Foundation’s annual awards dinner in November.
The Covenant Award is among the most prominent citations in the Jewish community, and is awarded to three educators every year after a rigorous selection process. Including this year’s awardees, 75 Jewish educators have received a Covenant Award since its establishment in 1991.
“Each year this special evening gives us the opportunity to celebrate and honor excellence,” said Eli Evans, Chairman of the Board of the Foundation, in his introductory remarks. “We encourage Jewish educators to dream beyond their classrooms, and to treat those classrooms as laboratories in which their best ideas can be tested and shared with the wider world.”
Meltzer, presented with The Covenant Award by Sara Crown Star, turned the energy and exuberance emanating from her kindergarten class into a metaphor for the possibilities of creative and inspired Jewish education.
“Joyful, engaging Jewish education creates joyful, engaged Jews,” she said in her acceptance speech. “There is a growing trend to make kindergarten look more like the rest of school. Instead, we should be making the rest of school – and all our learning experiences – look more like kindergarten.
“Am I suggesting that learners of every age should create midrash out of toilet paper rolls and pipe cleaners? No, not necessarily. But no one ever fell in love with learning, or with Judaism, from workbooks, cookie-cutter art projects or flashcards. It’s so crucial that all our learners, from youngest to oldest, have the opportunity to create, to design, to take risks, and even to play, on a regular basis.”
As lead kindergarten teacher at Lander-Grinspoon Academy (LGA), Meltzer has designed and implemented programs and project-based learning experiences for her students that are tangible, unique and exciting, and that reflect her standing at the corner where education, community building, family engagement, the arts, Jewish identity and Jewish values meet.
Meltzer created a popular, resource-rich blog at the school as a two-way mode of communication with parents and offering information about children’s learning and resources and ideas to bring lessons and traditions into homes and the community.
She also pioneered family programming for the kindergarten class to actively engage parents in the curriculum and Jewish life, and to offer a portal for their own immersion into Jewish knowledge and practices. Believing that children at the youngest ages should practice Jewish values, Meltzer fostered relationships with surrounding social service agencies to engage students in community life and gemilut chasadim, acts of lovingkindness.
One of the biggest manifestations of her integrated approach is the annual Gan (Kindergarten) Opera, an original production and an initiative cited as an exemplary model of arts-based education by the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. She travels to schools, synagogues and JCC’s throughout the country to lead programs based on her two children’s books, The Shabbat Princess and A Mezuzah on the Door.
Meltzer is also a founder of the Teva Learning Center, where she imagined, designed and directed environmental education experiences for day school students.
Meltzer was awarded along with Michelle Shapiro Abraham, Director of Program Development for the Campaign for Youth Engagement at the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), and Dr. Sandra Ostrowicz Lilienthal, Curriculum Developer and Instructor at The Rose and Jack Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education of Broward County in Davie, Fla.
The Covenant Foundation is a program of the Crown Family Philanthropies and members of the Crown family presented the three recipients and bestowed the Award. Each of the 2015 recipients received $36,000, and each of their institutions, $5,000.
CAP: Amy Meltzer, left, receives the Covenant Award.