TORONTO — Associated Hebrew Schools is planning to open a new location for preschoolers at Beth Sholom Synagogue next fall.
The Cedarvale Early Years Program will include the school’s “Mini Mensch” (pre-nursery) program for children age 15 months to 3 years, and a nursery.
The Mini Mensch program, which currently operates only at the school’s Kamin branch in Thornhill, is divided into two sections, one that children attend with a caregiver and one that they attend on their own.
Almost 50 families attended an information session at the shul in January, where children took part in circle time led by a Mini Mensch teacher and were entertained by musician Mark Weinstock. Coincidentally, Associated operated an evening Hebrew school at Beth Sholom until about 40 years ago.
Rabbi Mark Smiley, Associated’s director of education, told The CJN that the school, which has a total of 1,600 students at three branches, including a middle school, became aware in recent years that many alumni and supporters were living south of the school’s southernmost branch on Neptune Drive – as far south as St. Clair Avenue.
“We started to see a critical mass [of parents] show interest about two to three years ago,” he said. “At the same time, our Posluns branch [on Neptune] is close to being full.
“We are excited that Associated is continuing its tradition of putting its educational centres in areas that are accessible to its constituents – and who would have thought that families would be moving back into older Jewish neighbourhoods?”
Debbie Cohen Savage, a mother of two boys whose oldest son is in senior kindergarten at Posluns, lives near Bathurst Street and St. Clair. She says it’s not uncommon for people to tell her that their grandparents lived on her street.
Because of the commute to Posluns, Cohen Savage said, “when we heard they were thinking about a preschool, we got very excited for our newborn.”
The school is planning to provide a shuttle bus between the two locations for families who have children at both places. As well, an outdoor playground is being built.
Although there are other Jewish day schools in the area between Eglinton Avenue and St. Clair (Robbins Hebrew Academy, which is Conservative, and Leo Baeck Day School, which is Reform), the more traditional Associated is a closer match to Cohen Savage’s and her husband’s modern Orthodox values, she said.
Elana Shapiro Davidson, vice-principal of Bet Hayeled at Kamin, told The CJN there is excitement about the new program not only because Posluns has not had room to accommodate an early-years program, but because children entering nursery there are coming from a variety of programs.
“For kids to be with those friends and carry on together is something special. To have that continuity is really nice,” she said.
Shapiro Davidson and Ora Shulman, current vice-principal at the Posluns branch, will be co-principals of Posluns next year, and Cedarvale will be part of their responsibilities.
Shapiro Davidson said that Mini Mensch represents children’s “first entrance into school, and we really want them to feel they’re in a Jewish setting… There’s a big focus on language, [but in addition to academics] parents need to feel the place is safe and warm and loving and nurturing.”
For more information about the new branch or to register, go to associatedcedarvale.com.