A local educator was among the 47 teachers chosen from around the country as recipients of the Grinspoon-Steinhardt Awards for Excellence in Jewish Education.
Robin Wander of Long Branch, who serves as coordinator of the early childhood program at the JCC of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains, said that “‘Living Jewish’ has always been on the forefront of my educational philosophy.”
Wander lived in Marlboro for 25 years with her husband and three children, before their recent move to Long Branch. She spent 11 years as the Scotch Plains JCC’s kindergarten teacher before being appointed to her present position three years ago. In this role, she helps create and develop a combined curriculum while planning and facilitating programs for the department.
She told NJ Jewish News, “This award recognizes, not only my role, but that of the entire JCC early childhood staff. Part of our curriculum is built on the idea that being Jewish is not just holiday oriented, but being Jewish is who we are and how we learn.
“Exposing children to this philosophy, through dramatic play, stories, music, nature, and natural curiosity, coupled with Jewish values, provides children with skills to be self confident and the ability to understand Judaism at an age-appropriate level.”
Wander was nominated by Robin Brous, the JCC’s assistant executive director and head of the early childhood program, who said Wander possesses “a unique ability to bring Jewish living and learning to life for young children.“Robin integrates Jewish values, practices, and themes into the curriculum in a meaningful way, so that even the youngest students find connections and relevance to their lives.… Robin is passionate about her work,” said Brous.
“The preschool, for many, is the first place where Jewish learning and identity begin for children and their parents,” Wander said. “The challenge is to provide thought-provoking education for our staff to become knowledgeable about Judaism and their own identity so they will have a positive impact on the children they teach.”
Wander is an active leader of the Jewish Federation of Monmouth County community and a member of its Women’s Philanthropy board.
The winners were announced in June, just after schools closed, so their students will be hearing of the honor only when they return to class this month.
The awards, first established in 2000, are presented jointly by the Harold Grinspoon Foundation and the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life, in collaboration with JESNA, the Jewish Education Service of North America.
Nominations are made by principals or program administrators, and the winners are chosen through the area’s central education agency or the local federation. The final selection is confirmed by a national awards panel.
The winners each receive $2,000, sometimes with more added by local organizations. Half of that is a stipend to be used within two years for some form of professional development. They can use the other $1,000 as they choose.
In Wander's case, $1,000 of her award is being provided by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, which put forward her nomination to the foundation. In a letter to NJ Jewish News, federation president Julie Lipsett-Singer, vice president Marcy Lazar, and executive vice president Stanley Stone said it was in acknowledgement of Wander’s "many contributions and achievements as an early childhood educator."
The award will be presented to Wander at the NJ Professional Development Seminar for Religious School and Early Childhood Educators, hosted by the federation in October. This is the third consecutive year that the federation is participating in the award. The federation leaders went on to say, “We strongly encourage and promote high quality Jewish education within our community. We consider Jewish education to be a top priority of our federation’s mission. To that end, we also participate as a partner to the Harold Grinspoon Foundation in The PJ Library, Jewish bedtime stories and songs for children ages six months to seven years, and as a partner to Compedia in JLand, a secure, on-line virtual world for Jewish children ages four-10."