Pearl Charatz thought she was just lending her decades of educational experience to help guide her synagogue, Congregation B’nai Israel in Rumson, as it expands its preschool to include a full-day kindergarten.
Instead, she now finds herself the director of the newly renamed Gan Yeladim Early Childhood Center.
“I’ve been a member here for years and told them I’d help them find someone” to get the program going, said Charatz. “They turned around and asked me to [become director] because I had the background to move the school forward.”
Recently retired as assistant superintendent of schools in Shrewsbury and with more than 30 years in the field — much of it in public school administration — the Monroe resident began her career teaching handicapped preschool students at a private school in Red Bank.
Charatz couldn’t help but note the symmetry of the situation.
“Everything goes in a circle,” she laughed. “I started in preschool and now I’m back in preschool education. But, really, it’s fun and I’m happy to help.”
In anticipation of the launch of the program in fall 2011, Charatz suggested the name change — from Gan Yeladim Preschool — to better reflect the expansion.
“It’s a good time for us to move into a full-day kindergarten program,” said Charatz, who said it reflects a trend in recent years in public and private schools.
However, the recent budget crisis faced by districts statewide has some actually looking to cut back kindergarten to a half-day.
“I know what the public schools expect from preschoolers when they come in,” said Charatz. “Many times you can tell what preschool a child went to because every preschool has its own little niche…. Everybody does letters and alphabet, but there’s more than that.
“We want a strong academic setting where our students progress in the same things as those who go to public school. Our focus is on Jewish learning and good preparation.”
Prior to her stint in Shrewsbury, Charatz served as director of special services in Middlesex Borough. The other positions she has held include teacher of emotionally disturbed boys at the Coastal Learning Center in Morganville, special education teacher at Keyport High School, child-study team member in Tinton Falls, and assistant guidance counselor at a middle school in East Brunswick.
“We are going to make B’nai Israel children 21st-century learners,” said Charatz. She said the program will focus on the state-approved “HighScope” early childhood curriculum, which is based on children being actively involved in their own learning.
Because research has demonstrated the benefits of earmarking money for preschool programs, she said, the state has created standards to develop self-help, independence, and readiness skills curriculums. Teachers using the HighScope program have been specially trained.
The Gan Yeladim program, which currently serves children two to five years old, was established in 1984 to provide, according to school informational material, “a warm, stimulating atmosphere that allows your child to grow, learn, and socialize in a Jewish environment.”
It also runs an “Ima and Me” program for toddlers 16 to 30 months and pre-kindergarten and kindergarten enrichment programs.
“We offer things like Baking with Bubbe, Hooray for Hebrew, music, and yoga,” said Charatz. “We give them a snack and they spend an extra hour with us. We’ve been busy.”
For the coming year, youngsters will be learning through the latest technology with the introduction of three touch-sensitive “SMART Tables” to teach such fundamentals as colors and numbers.
Charatz said the school qualified for a grant from the Smart Technology Company to cover half the $8,000 cost of each table.
“The parents of Gan have pulled together to organize fund-raisers to get the rest,” she said. “I expect by the end of August we will have enough to purchase the tables.”