Thursday, April 6, 2017

Cathy Rolland

Advancing Early Childhood Education in the 21st Century
Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism (ECE-RJ) hosted their 17th national gathering in Chicago March 1-4, 2017. Over 250 directors, teachers, and leaders involved in early education and engagement from North America and Israel attended the conference, which focused on the theme, Advancing Early Childhood Education in the 21st Century. 

Understanding national trends and best principles remains a high priority for early childhood professionals as they continue to provide broad offerings within their early education and engagement programs.   Attendees expanded their knowledge and strengthened their commitment to the key principles and the most current theories regarding the education of young children.  The conference setting provided a unique opportunity for a diverse group of Jewish professionals, including educators, specialists, lay leaders, clergy and other stakeholders in early childhood Jewish education to network and collaborate on designing family engagement opportunities that will translate into daily practice.  These professionals represented programs that are part of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), JCCA, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ), and Jewish schools without affiliation.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, spoke to attendees about the priority the Reform Movement places on early engagement, and provoked a ground-swell of inspiration in recognizing early educators as the experts in engaging families with young children. He said, “You are the ones who usher the next generation into our doors. You create the connections, and the future is bright because of your capable hands”.  Keynote speaker Diana Mendley Rauner, President of the Ounce of Prevention Fund (a public-private partnership that prepares children for success in school and in life), described the Fund’s efforts in early education, working to unlock the power of human potential and to advance program and policy efforts interactively to foster systemic change.

Workshops for administrators, educators, and engagement professionals provided hands on learning that was both current and varied; speakers shared their expertise on understanding gender identity, incorporating STREAM in early childhood classrooms, using research and best principles to achieve excellence in early education, supporting young children and their families in their spiritual journeys, and engaging families in our early childhood communities. 

ECE-RJ is a professional organization that was founded to represent all who work in the field of early childhood Jewish education.  It serves as a voice for educators, provides synagogue leadership with information on national trends, shares resources for best practices, and offers important platforms for collegial sharing and support.  For more information about ECE-RJ, visit the website at

Cathy Rolland is director of engaging families with young children at the Union for reform Judaism and the inaugural president of the Early Childhood Educators of Reform Judaism (ECE-RJ), an affiliate of the URJ.

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