Jewish Early Childhood Education Initiative ElevatEd Launches in North America

Feb 20, 2024 | Article, Press Release

Denver to serve as pilot communities in groundbreaking and collaborative initiative addressing critical teacher shortage in early childhood Jewish education

JCC Association of North America, Jewish Federations of North America, and the Union for Reform Judaism proudly announce the launch of ElevatEd, the groundbreaking collaborative initiative intended to transform the field of early childhood Jewish education (ECJE). ElevatEd launched this summer in five initial communities, including Denver and Boulder. Formerly known as Project-412, the new expansive initiative will address the prohibitive early childhood educator shortage.

In total, the JCC Movement and Reform Movement operate 475 early childhood centers serving more than 65,000 young children and their families across the country. Tens of thousands more remain on long waiting lists or simply choose not to even try due to the shortage of educators. ElevatEd brings together three prominent Jewish organizations to collaborate with funders, practitioners, educators, and community leaders in addressing the critical shortage of qualified early childhood educators, working together to expand the field of early childhood Jewish education in North America.

“We must have a far-reaching strategy to address systemic challenges in the early childhood Jewish landscape, which is why we are excited to launch ElevatEd, a groundbreaking partnership to address these issues in the Jewish community across North America,” said ElevatEd executive director Orna Siegel, a two-decades long Jewish education leader who has witnessed the impact of these issues firsthand.


ElevatEd Mentor teacher, Nadia Polozova from Temple Sinai, lighting their classroom menorah for the 4th night of Hanukkah.

The three-year ElevatEd pilot will focus on 14 pioneer communities across 14 U.S. states, with a goal of recruiting, training, and credentialing up to 30 educators in each community, amounting to more than 400 emerging early childhood educators in total. ElevatEd launched in the summer of 2023 with five initial communities: Boston, Massachusetts; Denver-Boulder, Colorado; East Bay, California; Houston, Texas; and Long Island, New York; nine additional communities will launch in early 2024. Each pioneer community will pair their own funding alongside a substantial initial investment from philanthropic foundations, which will build a long-term financial model for improvement and growth.

Four months into the program, participating emerging educators are engaging in a year of learning, 18 months of mentorship support, and will receive funds to support their work toward a credential in early childhood education. Equally important, mid-career educators in each ElevatEd school are also participating in a research-based mentor training program to support the emerging educators in their schools.

“Each pioneer community will include early childhood centers in JCCs, Reform synagogues, and a diverse collection of other Jewish educational settings to reflect the unique demographic makeup of each geographic area,” says Sasha Kopp, senior director of ElevatEd education and engagement, who brings a decade of classroom and assistant director leadership experience to the project. “The new website,, will serve as a central hub for ECJE best practices and resources, reflecting the purpose of the initiative—to elevate the field and bring the entire early childhood Jewish community together.”

The Efshar Project, a unique network hub organization in Colorado serves as the implementation partner for ElevatEd. Kelli Pfaff, the Executive Director of The Efshar Project states, “We are incredibly proud to partner with JEWISHcolorado, our local Jewish federation to support ElevatEd at a local level here in the Denver/Boulder community. Efshar is proud to work across such diverse Jewish organizations that are committed to elevating the importance of early childhood education as a gateway for Jewish life. By investing in recruitment, training and retention strategies in a comprehensive way, we are confident that children and families will benefit from having more competent and highly trained professionals in every classroom. We also see the incredible potential of working together to address systemic challenges and learning from other pioneer communities across the United States.”

The initiative will increase the opportunity for families to participate in high-quality ECJE, professionalize the field, and exponentially expand the engagement of Jewish families in Jewish communal life through this expansive effort focused on teacher recruitment, training, credentialing, mentoring, and teacher-family engagement in the early childhood setting. It will also explore how deep and thoughtful collaboration in each local community and across North America can move the Jewish community toward a powerful, shared vision.

“By investing in early childhood education, we are creating opportunities for families to connect with Jewish life,” says JEWISHcolorado President & CEO Renée Rockford. “JEWISHcolorado is committed to building community for today and for future generations. We are proud to partner with local and national organizations to support ElevatEd’s efforts in early childhood classrooms in Denver and Boulder.”


Katy Roberts, ElevatEd Mentor, teaches the students about trees for TuBiShivat. “One of the children was off to the side, within earshot, and had been working hard trying to put her fitted nap sheet over a tray, just like with her nap cot. She has been enjoying practicing her new sense of independence. She lay down on her finished work and wanted me to sing “night night” for her. I did this and offered the question “what if trees can help us rest our bodies?” As we lay under the branches another child grabbed a log pillow and joined us as we sang.”

ElevatEd’s investment of $12 million comes primarily from funding partners, including the Jim Joseph Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, and the Samuels Family Foundation. “The launch of ElevatEd is an important and timely development for ECJE that reflects the urgent, large-scale needs of the field,” says Dawne Bear Novicoff, chief operating officer of the Jim Joseph Foundation, “ECJE is an opportunity for the Jewish community to support young families and to welcome them into meaningful Jewish life.”

Wendy Newberger, director at Crown Family Philanthropies adds, “Crown Family Philanthropies believes in the power of early childhood Jewish education and its role in the engagement of Jewish families. We’re proud to partner with other national and local funders in this exciting collaboration to address the shortage of qualified, trained educators, and to improve the long-term engagement of young Jewish families in communal life.”

Brooke Ventola is a new teacher at The Garden Preschool who has been greatly impacted by the curriculum and community, “Taking these classes has inspired me so much. I forgot what a joy it was to be back in a room again. I’ve had a great experience learning about Jewish faith and implementing it my classroom with the ideas I have gotten from everyone participating.”.

Leah Boonin, selected as a mentor teacher, is a seasoned teacher from The Boulder JCC’s Jay and Rose Phillips Early Childhood Center. She is thrilled to have the opportunity and stated “I am so grateful to be on this journey of learning with my ‘mentee’. Having languages and resources to support her has benefited me at least as much!”

Paula Voss, Director at the Staenberg-Loup Denver JCC’s Early Learning School is seeing the impact each day with the teachers from her school that are participating. Paula stated “The teachers that are participating tell me after a session how engaging the sessions are. It’s great to see the teachers excited and motivated after attending the sessions.”

The scope and scale of ElevatEd is exemplified in the updated branding and website, elevating the field of early childhood education and the educators who nurture the infinite potential of children, their families, and the Jewish community. ElevatEd’s new logo symbolizes both the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life, as well as the project’s commitment to create an environment in which children and families will root deeply and grow as part of a strong, connected, diverse Jewish ecosystem.

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About JCC Association of North America
JCC Association of North America leads the JCC Movement, the most expansive platform for Jewish life in the U.S. and Canada, welcoming 1.5 million visitors weekly to 170+ Jewish Community Centers and Jewish Community Camps (JCCs). An innovator in early childhood Jewish and family engagement, the movement employs 6,000 early childhood Jewish educators who touch the lives of 35,000 children and their families in 170 JCC schools. Learn more at or on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

About Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA)
Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) are the backbone of the organized Jewish community in the U.S. and Canada, representing over 400 Jewish communities. They raise and distribute more than $2 billion annually and through planned giving and endowment programs to support Jewish communities domestically and in Israel.

About the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ)
The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) represents a vibrant network of nearly 850 Reform synagogues across North America, which foster serious Jewish learning, sacred community, and prophetic justice. As the central address for this congregational network, the URJ speaks on behalf of the entire Reform Movement on a wide range of topics ranging from Jewish observance and ritual, community relations, social justice, and much more. Visit for more.

About the Efshar Project
The Efshar Project makes exemplary early education experiences, grounded in Jewish values, a starting point for any family seeking high quality learning within a Jewish setting. By elevating and empowering Jewish early childhood education professionals, Efshar helps to secure the future of Jewish early childhood education as a gateway into Jewish life and as the heartbeat of our collective community. The Efshar Project currently partners with 15 early childhood centers, 275 educators and 1150 families across Denver and Boulder. Visit for more.

About JEWISHcolorado
JEWISHcolorado convenes, connects, invests, and protects Jewish life in Colorado, Israel, and around the world. JEWISHcolorado, part of the Jewish Federations of North America, strives to create a vibrant, secure, connected, and inclusive Jewish community. We stand together in shared purpose guided by our Jewish values, connected to the people of Israel, and continuously working on behalf of the Jewish community through outreach, advocacy, programming, and grantmaking. Visit for more.