By Stacey Dresner
SPRINGFIELD/LONGMEADOW – On Tuesday, the Jewish Education Cooperative of Pioneer Valley, or JEDCO, a new community Jewish afterschool pilot program for grades K-7, will open its doors in the Heritage Academy building in Longmeadow.
Kindergartners through second graders will be able to learn their Hebrew letters in a class called “Torah Yoga: Hebrew Through Movement.” In “Hebrew Decoding,” a class for kids a little older, students will learn how to read and write Hebrew through fun and games.
Middle schoolers may study social-documentary photographs of Jewish life many years ago in the photography class “Time Travel,” while others will explore Jewish texts with Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe.
“This afterschool piece is being designed to give experiential Judaic learning opportunities that are fun and engaging and maybe different in some ways than what we have come to expect in afterschool programs,” said Michelle Kongisburg, program director of JEDCO.
Piloting the Jewish education program, Konigsburg said, gives “a taste of what the opportunities might look like. The rest of the year is exploratory.”
“We want input from parents, educators, rabbis and students and all of the constituents that would be benefitting from the program,” explained Kongisburg. “This is not ‘Build it and they will come.’ This is, ‘How can we respond to articulated needs and provide rich Judaic experiences capitalizing on the resources that are already in our community?’”
JEDCO held two open houses earlier this month to show potential students and their families the space and to introduce them to the program.
Konigsburg said that she invites all local Jewish children in grades K- 7, across denominations, affiliated and unaffiliated, to just show up and see what JEDCO is all about.
“Just come and experience a potpourri of Jewish learning experiences,” she said.
Re-envisioning Jewish Education
At the end of the last school year, citing financial issues and a declining enrollment, the board of Heritage Academy Jewish Day School decided not to open the Jewish day school during the 2017-2018 school year, but rather to “re-envision what Jewish education should look like in a Jewish community,” said Konigsburg, head of school at that time.
“One of the needs that parents had been articulating was a desire for a Judaic educational afterschool program, a program that could bring children together from different institutions to create optimal opportunities to socialize while learning,” Konigsburg said. “The goal was to see if there was a way that we could bring children together – those who are affiliated, those who are not affiliated, from different institutions, to have an experiential learning piece, but also that would engage a larger population.”
At one time, the religious schools of both Temple Beth El (TBE) and Sinai Temple were working on merging into one Hebrew school program. That fell through last year. Maxine Bernstein, vice president of education at TBE and co-chair of the JEDCO committee with Konigsburg, was a part of the committee that worked on the merger of the two religious schools.
Now Temple Beth El is part of JEDCO.
“This is really an exciting thing,” Bernstein said. “The advantage of this is the community aspect. The vision of the original project – and the vision remains – is to get as many kids in one location as possible. There are fewer and fewer kids. The community is changing. It makes sense to centralize it. That is the primary advantage – that it is a community program that ultimately is looking toward the vision of having a center for all Jewish education.”
The plan is for JEDCO students to attend classes at the Heritage Academy building on Mondays and Tuesdays, with Wednesday classes to be held at Temple Beth El’s Sandy Kupperman Learning Center (SKLC).
“During the transition, for the next few months, they are doing one day a week at the temple,” Bernstein said. “Essentially, the program is becoming JEDCO. It’s really just the next generation of the same program. The teachers are the same. The director, Caryn Resnick, who has been running the SKLC, is going to maintain that program through the remainder of this semester. Caryn will be remaining with Temple Beth El in a different type of role, working in engagement.
“The school is a great place to get the children together, but the challenge is getting the kids to connect with the temple,” Bernstein added. “We still want to provide family programming that deepens the engagement and that will be Caryn’s role moving forward.”
JEDCO’s first semester will run through March 14. The second semester is set to run from March 26 through May 23. Additional classes offered through JEDCO this semester include age-appropriate art studios, Biblio-Drama, Conversational Hebrew, Musical Expressions, and a PJ Library book club.
For more information or for registration forms go to jedco-pv.org, or call Michelle Konigsburg at (413) 567-1517.
CAP: JEDCO will be located in the Heritage academy building.