Congregation Ner Shalom to start first Jewish preschool in Prince William County

Children in Congregation Ner Shalom’s religious school play on its property in Woodbridge. (Photo courtesy of Rabbi Lizz Goldstein)

Prince William is Virginia’s second-most populous county. Until now, there’s been no preschool that focuses on Jewish education and values. This fall, Congregation Ner Shalom in Woodbridge announced plans to launch Gan Teva (“Nature Garden”) an outdoor preschool on the synagogue’s 10-acre property.

Rabbi Lizz Goldstein said Gan Teva will fill the preschool void in the county and act as a magnet for families with young children.

“We’re just really hoping to build this from the ground up and have it really be a strong community project,” Goldstein said.

Even before the pandemic forced schools and children’s programs outside, Ner Shalom was eyeing the outdoors, Goldstein said.

“We believe that nature’s the best place for children to learn.”

What if it rains? Or snows? Or it’s just too hot?

“There’s no bad weather, only bad fashion choices,” Goldstein said. “If it’s cold, if it’s a little rainy, if it’s snowing, we’re going to go outside and play in puddles. Families have to prepare their children for the real world, and sometimes you get your feet wet.”

If there’s a chance to be swept away in a flood or frozen in a blizzard, the school will bend the rules and everyone will go inside, Goldstein said.

There will be a regular morning session from 9 a.m. to noon and an afternoon session until 3. Monthly tuition for the morning session is $590, with an additional fee for afternoons.

Right now, Ner Shalom is applying for permits, hiring staff and fundraising. The synagogue wants to raise $30,000 to help cover the preschool’s startup costs. So far they’re raised half that. Goldstein said they also want to raise another $20,000 for the 2022-23 school year. After that, she expects the school to be financially self-sustaining.

Enrollment will be capped at 12 children and registration won’t open until a start date is finalized, Goldstein said. So far five families have expressed interest in the preschool.

Ner Shalom, with its 65 member families, is one of two established Jewish communities in Prince William County. (The other is Chabad Lubavitch of Greater Gainesville & Manassas.) The synagogue has a Sunday morning supplementary school, but has struggled over the years to start a weekday preschool. That was until a new family joined the congregation that was gung-ho about the idea.

Angela Paul moved to Nokesville a few years ago. Her daughter is 2, nearly preschool age. When Paul learned Ner Shalom was trying to start one, she enlisted
her network.

Joye Newman is Paul’s mother-in-law and a child-development professional. She’s helping to design the preschool’s curriculum. “I’m looking at a great opportunity to design the perfect school,” Newman said.

Her husband, Larry Paul, is assisting with fundraising.

“We’re working on building a foundation, both developmentally and Jewishly,” he said.

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