The Early Childhood Learning Center at the Merage JCC in Irvine is growing and seeking support. Dan Bernstein, the president and CEO of the JCC, and Nicole Ben-Artzi, director of Merage JCC Early Childhood Learning Center, shared their excitement over the expansion and what the plans will mean to the Jewish Community and the general population of Orange County as well.
When the JCC moved into the building located at 1 Federation Way in Irvine in August 2004, the preschool, which had been operating out of the old JCC facility on Baker St. in Costa Mesa, served between 75 and 100 students. Today, according to Ben-Artzi, there are 270 kids in attendance with a wait list of 50 at all times. “With the expansion we’ll be able to teach about 100 more children,” she said.
Bernstein is hoping that everyone will come through with donations to insure that the groundbreaking will take place on time. He explained, “Our goal is to raise enough money so that we will be able to open part of the new wing in January 2014. We’ll be adding a library geared for those from birth through 5. It will be used by only those enrolled in the preschool. We will also be adding a parenting center for parents of the same age group. A pre-natal nursery room to help parents-to-be and new parents will also be added. Because of security issues, the preschool has a private entrance.”
Director Ben-Artzi is proud of the program she and her staff of 43 provide for children from 6 weeks through 6 years. “We have an amazing staff — all highly educated. If you want to give your child a Jewish education and a fantastic chance to explore and learn, you can’t ask for a better atmosphere. We have a very low student to teacher ratio, which means all the kids get a lot of attention.”
She added that the preschool offers not only the usual academics, “but we make sure the kids use the gym and swimming pool (lessons are available) on a regular daily basis. Plus we have a truly wonderful language immersion program!”
The preschool offers Hebrew, plus an Italian immersion class and two Spanish immersion classes. “This is unique to our environment. Everyone coming together is important to us. We have so much to offer! With this expansion, we will even have more to offer,” Ben-Artzi said.
The school is proud to let prospective parents know that teachers use the Reggio Emilia approach to instruction, and the philosophy is based upon the following set of principles:
• Children must have some control over the direction of their learning;
• Children must be able to learn through experiences of touching, moving, listening, seeing and hearing;
• Children have a relationship with other children and with material items in the world that children must be allowed to explore and
• Children must have endless ways and opportunities to express themselves.
Both Bernstein and Ben-Artzi want the Jewish community to explore the entire facility. “It is a safe and great area for everyone to hang out,” Bernstein said.
Parents Rabbi Leah Lewis and Cindy Muchnick were thrilled to talk about their families’ love for the program. Muchnick has seen the school go from the “not so impressive building at the old site and several directors” with four children and has loved the way the faculty and staff have provided for the various personalities of all her children.
“I have 12 to 15 years of loving the JCC’s pre-school under my belt,” she said. “Our oldest is 15, and our youngest graduated from the pre-K program in 2012. We started each one at about 2½ years of age. We’ve been through several directors, faculty members and even some curriculum changes, but the reason we love it so much is that the feeling of warmth and love for the kids and the entire family has always been the core.”
Lewis agrees. “We moved from Los Angeles and knew right away that for us, we wanted to build our lives around the JCC,” she said. “Our son Jonah started in the two-year-old class and went through the program. Now our daughter Nomi, who’s two, is there.”
Lewis added, “Nomi started in the infant program at nine weeks of age. Jonah had been in a pre-school of 45 students in L.A., and it had a warm and homey feeling. When we got here, we immediately felt that even though the school here is much larger, that wonderful warmth is still there. The staff not only knows every child and greets each one with a hug, but the families as well. Jonah wasn’t able to take part in the language immersion program as it was just starting when he attended, but Nomi is signed up to enter the Hebrew class in the fall.”
Both parents said that one of the most impressive factors of the preschool is that it really is an extension of their homes while providing the children with a vast amount of opportunities that a smaller campus wouldn’t be able to offer.
Nomi Lewis absolutely loves being with her friends every day. Seeing her dad leading the weekly Shabbat is the highlight of her week.
Ben-Artzi wants the community to know that, “Our preschool will help your child develop a lifelong love of learning, and our teaching faculty will help prepare your child for the best kindergartens in Orange County.”
TAKE A TOUR
To schedule a personal
tour, please contact
Adena Kaufman, director
of admissions at:
call the pre-school office
at (949) 435-3400 ext. 290, speak with the director
Nicole Ben-Artzi or log onto: