Temple Beth Ami gains from preschool program


The preschool of Temple Beth Ami in Rockville has become one of a growing number to extend its day to 6:30 p.m. to accommodate working parents.

The change resulted from the congregation’s 16-month participation in a Union of Reform Judaism program to institute innovative changes in synagogue early-childhood care programs.

“Pursuing Excellence Through Your Early Childhood Center Community of Practice” brought together representatives from the early childhood centers of 14 Reform congregations in the U.S. and Canada. The program had its final meeting this month.

At first, the program was intended to provide methods to solve problems and increase enrollment, said Cathy Rolland, the URJ’s director of early childhood engagement. But the program evolved into looking at innovative ways to improve schools.


Each of the eight synagogues that completed the program instituted an experimental change to its nursery school. Beth Ami offered the expanded hours in September as its experiment.

“Every synagogue that was involved kind of chose a direction they wanted to go in,” said Ellen Bortz, Beth Ami’s special projects coordinator and one of the temple’s four representatives involved in the program. She said that many of the kids in the Beth Ami preschool come from busy, two-income families that need all-day care for their children.

At least two other local schools have extended their hours to a similar time, Bortz says. “It’s becoming the norm.”

Other temples’ experiments included establishing a parent committee, starting an infant care program, and a campaign to get families more involved with the synagogue as a whole.

Each month, the Beth Ami team participated in webinars with the URJ and the other synagogues taking part in the program, during which they learned about proper usage of social media and other marketing tools, said Bortz, who participated with Paula Sayag, Early Childhood director, and two board members.

“We had a lot of peripheral events grow out of having these two board members so directly involved in us,” said Bortz. One was when temple members came to read to the nursery school children.

The program’s first meeting was held in January 2013 in Chicago. At a follow-up in December in San Diego, Sayag and Bortz presented their experiment.

This month’s meeting in Dallas “was sort of the end of our journey” with the program, said Bortz, “but what we’ve found is that we’ve developed really close ties with these other schools around the country [and Canada]. We lean on each other. We advise one another.”

Beth Ami’s representatives “were a truly exceptional team because they got board members involved,” said Rolland. As a result, they were willing to take risks, and had the luxury of constant contact with and support from the temple’s board.

“It was a phenomenal experience,” said Bortz, “and it really forced us to reflect. Nothing we did was anything that we couldn’t have done, but by being a part of this group, we really focused and got it done.”

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