It’s been one year since its reopening — and more than four since the devastating fire that ravaged its home synagogue — and the child care center at Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth has received state approval and has a new director.
The Above and Beyond Child Care Center facility was destroyed in August 2006 in an electrical blaze that also gutted the synagogue’s sanctuary and auditorium. There were no injuries. Although it was able to reopen in 2010, the center had not been allowed to accept more than five children until it received official licensing by the state. The license allows up to 52 children to be enrolled.
The center cares for children from six weeks through two years old. It is looking to add a class for three- and four-year-olds in September, said new director Sharon Raven.
The center now has six children, including five-month-old Shane, whom Raven is in the process of adopting.
A Highland Park resident, Raven was a kindergarten teacher and assistant preschool director at the YM-YWHA of Raritan Valley in the town for 10 years. Most recently she spent three years as the early childhood director at the YM-YWHA of Union County in Union, which has 150 youngsters enrolled.
After leaving the Highland Park Y, Raven spent a year as special events coordinator at the JCC of Central New Jersey in Scotch Plains and then went to the Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley in East Brunswick as admissions director.
In a sense, Raven is also “coming home” with her new position, having served as HPCT religious school principal early in her career. She is a member of Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park.
“I can never leave this town anymore,” she laughed.
Raven said she was eager to help shape the new center from the ground up.
“I would like to see this as a very strong community-based child-care center,” she said. “We want to partner with parents and raise their children in a community. This will be like an extension of home life. It’s open to anybody who wants to come, but so far we have children from the community who are almost being raised like siblings. It’s very comfortable.”
Raven described the facility as “a nondenominational school enriched by Jewish values,” and said because of its small size, parents will always know each other. Moreover, with three other teachers, youngsters will receive individualized care and supervision.
Since the temple began housing two senior programs run by the Jewish Family and Vocational Service of Middlesex County several months ago, there will also be some intergenerational programming, she said.
The school’s location also allows it “to take advantage of things going on in town,” said Raven. “For example, on Veterans’ Day we all went down to see the parade.”
The center meets or exceeds state Division of Youth and Family Service standards in all areas, according to temple officials.
The center was moved from its former basement location to its own “bright and airy” wing upstairs as part of the synagogue’s reconstruction. It features a separate kitchen area, changing tables, separate bathrooms for children and adults, and its own entrance accessible only to parents and staff.
Those interested in information or enrolling their children should call 732-545-KIDS (5437) or visit aboveandbeyondkids.com.