The preschoolers in teacher Danielle Hartwig’s class have been reaping the benefits of her recent trip to Israel. Throughout her travels — in the desert, up north, in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv — she sent a brief e-mail to them every day, with photos of “D,” her teddy bear, who accompanied her on the plane and to a number of the spots she visited.
“I wanted to give them the sights, sounds, and view of Israel,” said Hartwig, who lives in Montclair and teaches at the preschool of Congregation Agudath Israel of West Essex in Caldwell. “When I got back, the children were really connected to D and to the places I visited. It was a small way for me to bring Israel into the classroom.”
Now that she has returned, the youngsters are also enjoying the Hebrew-language books she brought back to share with them.
Hartwig is the first local participant in the Jewish Early Childhood Education Leadership Institute. A joint program of the Jewish Theological Seminary and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, with consulting from Bank Street College and support from the Jim Joseph Foundation, it is designed to help new and aspiring early childhood directors grow in their Jewish learning, spirituality, identity, and connection to Israel.
Hartwig is a participant in the initiative’s second cohort of 15 participants, which began meeting in April 2013. The program includes several retreats, seminars at JTS and HUC in New York, on-line learning, mentoring, and the trip to Israel, which took place from Feb. 19 to March 1. The program concludes with a summer session in New York City in July. The third cohort will begin this April.
At 29, Hartwig has been teaching preschoolers for nearly a decade, she told NJJN in a phone conversation. “I’m always searching to learn what I don’t know and gain experience I don’t have,” she said. When a former colleague forwarded an e-mail looking for applicants for the leadership institute, she said, “I jumped.”
What she appreciates the most so far, she said, is the networking. “There are so many great educators and directors [in the cohort.] If one person has a problem or an issue, we have 15 other people to discuss it with, not just people at the school you’re teaching at. It’s having a community to solve problems.”
Hartwig had been to Israel twice before, and said much of the takeaway is intangible. The leadership trip, she said, “reinforced the need for a calm presence of the teacher in the classroom, and made me more aware of some of the things I already know.”
She added that through her — and D’s — communications from Israel and what she brought back, the children in her class “have become far more aware of Israel and excited to learn more about it.”