Nurturing the Community’s Children at the J
At the JCC’s Meyerhoff and Stoler Early Childhood Education Centers (ECE), we are fortunate to have in our classrooms, five Mother/Daughter teaching pairs. Their love for each other and their love and nurturing kindness toward the children they teach lay at the heart and soul of what our ECE is really all about. Indeed, we are very blessed to have these 10 outstanding women on board as educators.
For Sonia Bodner, the best part about teaching at the Meyerhoff ECE is its “homey” atmosphere. The J’s child care center, she says, runs “like a little family” and is all the more homey because Sonia’s daughter, Arielle, teaches there too.
Born in Morocco, Sonia emigrated to Israel, then to the United States, and began working at the J’s Parenting Center. Shortly thereafter, she was recruited as an assistant teacher at the Meyerhoff ECE.
Sonia’s background is in finance, but she’s always been drawn to working with children and has been with the J for an incredible 27 years.
Some time ago, Arielle was a tot in her mom’s classroom, so she’s been observing her mother in the teacher’s role for quite a while.
A 2016 graduate of Kent State University, Arielle is pursuing her Masters in Social Work, and loves teaching at the same school as Sonia. “It’s like a wonderful security blanket,” she says. “We bond, and it’s great to see my mom throughout the day and then go home and talk about our days.”
“Here,” agrees Sonia, “Arielle is my colleague and I am amazed at how much she observes and learns. It makes me so proud to see how she handles classroom situations. I see her discussions with our peers; I see the expressions and the mannerisms she uses, and I say to myself, ‘Oh my, look, she’s talking exactly like me. ”
According to Arielle, “I’ve always seen my mom as an amazing preschool teacher that I can brag about and who is known in the community, and I have always aspired to be the type of teacher that she is.”
This year, Sonia and Arielle will be celebrating Mother’s Day at Sonia’s daughter Dorina’s place.
Known as the “baby whisperer,” Cindy Neuman, knew she wanted to teach ever since she was a child. She studied early childhood education at Tufts University, and holds certifications in Infant Massage, Happiest Baby on the Block, and also works as a licensed postpartum doula.
Cindy has been with the JCC for the past 25 years, working in Owings Mills, Park Heights, and the Downtown Baltimore JCC. All told, she’s been teaching for 37 years, in Boston, New Jersey, and here, where she moved with her husband in 1989.
Cindy cherishes teaching little ones, especially supporting parents and giving them the tools they need to feel comfortable and confident in their roles as new moms and dads.
“Caitlin is intuitive,” says Cindy, “So it’s been very cool to watch her develop her skills.”
With infants and very young children, Caitlin explains, “I always try to promote independence.” For example, Caitlin tries to get her babies to hold their own bottles, and she is always looking out for the next appropriate step in a baby’s development.
“While I am big on ‘struggling’ – it’s ok to make the little ones work hard and figure things out — I am not into “suffering” – that’s not OK! And I am very big on consistency – keeping regular naptimes, and staying close and communicating with parents,” Caitlin says.
“Basically what she’s saying,” says Cindy, “is that our teaching styles are identical.”
Like mother, like daughter, Cindy and Caitin’s nurturing style can best be described as skill-oriented, relaxed, and developmentally appropriate.
“Let the children explore,” is their mantra.
For teacher and mom Judy Bickford, the seeds were planted a long time ago to become a teacher. Judy, who also serves as part-time Assistant Director of the Meyerhoff ECE, has been teaching for over 20 years.
A Judaic Studies graduate of Stern College, an arm of Yeshiva University, Judy loves teaching her four year-olds. She has been at the Meyerhoff for six years and describes the ECE as “a nurturing environment where I have the opportunity to be as creative as my own and the children’s imaginations will take us.”
Judy’s daughter, Sarah, serves as an assistant teacher for younger children, ranging in age from infants to two year-olds. Sarah began working as a nanny five years ago and soon-after filled a position at a licensed childcare. Shortly after that, she began substituting at the Meyerhoff ECE and became a full-time teacher three years ago.
Like her mother and mentor Judy, Sarah loves interacting with children. “When the babies reach over things and recognize you, when they’re transitioning from nonverbal to verbal, observing them as they grow, every day, I believe I am making a difference.”
Judy explains, “Sarah has a great imagination, she knits puppets and toys for her children and she has a very soft, sweet, nurturing way about her.” As a “floater,” or teacher that moves between classes, “Sarah is like [our ECE’s] mobile baby whisperer.”
“Education is a family affair in the Bickford home,” says Judy. “And working together is a wonderful ‘perk.’
“Sarah and I had lunch together today. We have many interests that are different but education is one subject that really keeps our conversations going, and this is a great place to share our ideas.”
Sarah agrees that teaching has brought mother and daughter closer together.
Judy sums it up this way:
“Being in education has brought my children a sense of altruism. Ever since my kids were really small, they have shared me. My kids appreciate what I do – there’s a sense of ‘my mom the teacher,’ and education has been a family road-trip.”
Owings Mills teacher Shannon Brown and assistant teacher and mom Annette Brown share a profound admiration and respect for one another.
Shannon first arrived at the Stoler ECE after her God-sister, an ECE teacher, recommended she try teaching. She began substituting and assistant teaching for a few years and took to it. She has taught at the J for five years, and keeps working for “the children’s smiles, their faces, and their big hugs.” Shannon is a mom too; she has two children of her own — a nine year old and a six year-old.
Like Shannon, Annette started working here as a substitute and has worked here for seven years. “The children are different every day,” she says. “Working here makes me feel like I’ve made a difference.”
Shannon loves having Annette at the same work place. Shannon teaches in the mornings, Annette teaches in the afternoons, but, as they do not live together, the mom-daughter pair relishes the opportunity to see each other every day.
Shannon says, simply, “My mother is my role model, absolutely. She’s always positive, always smiling. She’s very strong, and she has made me want to be just like her.”
Annette cannot be prouder of Shannon. “I just like what she’s doing,” she says. “She’s a wonderful child and I have to pat her on the back. She’s working, raising two children, going to school [for a degree in Health Care Management at the University of Baltimore]…”
“Shannon is amazing at doing the impossible.”
Recalling her days as a babysitter, Stoler ECE teacher and mom Laurie Zeitlin says she has always loved working with children. “They take everything in like sponges, and I love the feeling that I am molding them for the future.”
Laurie has worked in New York City, in the business world, (she holds a marketing degree in addition to a masters degree in education), but her passion is working with younger children, which brought her to the J’s ECE environment 14 years ago.
Laurie’s daughter, Rebecca, also works at the J, as a long term substitute.
A recent graduate of Ohio University, now on her way to a Masters in Social Work degree at the University of Maryland, Rebecca has great admiration for her mom: “Just seeing my mother love her job is inspiring. It’s nice to have your mom in a nearby classroom, to be able to talk about our days. The whole ECE feels less like a school, more like a family.”
Laurie and Rebecca compare teaching styles: Laurie compliments Rebecca’s patience; Rebecca praises her mom’s creative teaching techniques. Laurie is very impressed with Rebecca’s developing teaching skills.
“The teachers go on and on about how wonderful she is. The truth is Rebecca really gets down to the children’s level, and watching Rebecca be this woman who does what I do in such a vibrant way makes me very proud.”