Parents, students, and colleagues know Rainbowfish lead teacher Rebecca Kitchens as a dedicated educator and helpful mentor. Rebecca is also an inaugural member of the Sheva Center Leadership Institute (SCLI) for Early Childhood Professionals fellowship class. She is one of only 31 educators selected for this three-year program through the JCC Association of North America.
“Rebecca Kitchens has proven in her work with young children and families to be an exemplary Jewish educator,” said Early Childhood Director Adrienne Shulman. “Over the years we have witnessed many fellow teachers seeking Rebecca’s expertise and creativity in working out problems and enhancing their classroom curriculum. The JCC is incredibly proud of her work in and out of the classroom.”
One of the many reasons Rebecca was selected for the fellowship is her exemplary application of the Sheva framework in her classroom, which helps create a shared language among teachers, children, and parents. It is meant to be a learning platform, not a curriculum. Sheva, which means seven in Hebrew, applies seven core principles to the classroom:
- Children as Constructivist Learners
- Early Childhood Directors as Visionaries
- Early Childhood Educators as Professionals
- Families as Engaged Partners
- Environments as Inspiration for Inquiry
- Discover CATCH as Sh’mirat HaGuf (taking care of our bodies)
- Israel as the Story of the Jewish People
Sheva Center created the SCLI fellowship to advance the professional development of educators in the field of Jewish early childhood education. Made possible by the Jim Joseph Foundation, the fellowship is designed to enhance the skills of high-quality staff and create a pipeline for management and executive staff.
“As a mother of two nearly grown boys, I felt I was on a precipice of sorts in my educational career,” Rebecca said of her decision to apply for the program. “I could either begin to wind things down or I could use this time in my life, and the freedom that comes with it as an opportunity to learn and grow. When I heard about Sheva Center Leadership Institute Fellowship it immediately spoke to me as the perfect place to cultivate the next stage of my career as an educator.”
The Sheva fellowship features six retreats and two international study tours through Israel and Italy. Tours incorporate aspects of the Sheva Framework and the new “Growing Jewish ECE” platform, which includes work on exemplary education practices and areas of marketing, enrollment conversion, and family satisfaction and retention.
To date, the fellowship has taken Rebecca to Buffalo, New York; Boulder, Colorado; and Portland, Oregon. In December, she participated in her first international study in Israel. Her next international study will take her to study schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy this November.
“The most impactful part of my fellowship so far is having the opportunity to travel with an amazing group of faculty, Jewish educators, and directors, visiting the some of the best early childhood programs and Jewish Community Center in the world,” Rebecca said. The philosophies, curriculum, and facilities in these schools will inform and impact best practices in our own school community.”
In addition to retreats and tours, Rebecca is mentored by Sheva Center’s Education Director, Kathy Pomer. Rebecca has a regularly scheduled conference call with her mentor and access to her guidance whenever needed. Kathy was also here at the New Orleans JCC to visit Rebecca’s classroom in February. She also worked with the entire early childhood faculty on professional development and plans to return in August for the JCC’s first leadership team meeting.
“The formation of the leadership team and continued opportunities for the faculty to work together as thinking partners will help strengthen our curriculum and deepen our understanding of best practices in an early childhood Jewish setting,” she said.
Rebecca also participates in monthly virtual learning and workshops. Her study focuses on combining the Sheva framework and constructivist educational philosophies to place the child at the center of the learning community. According to Rebecca, these practices give children “readiness that naturally gives rise to a healthy appetite for academic content and a sense of what it means to be a citizen of the world.”
At the end of the fellowship, Rebecca and her fellow class members will complete a National Directors Credential (Aim4Excellence™) from National Louis University, McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership.
Rebecca has served the JCC for 18 years. She began in 2000 as an assistant teacher in the 3 - 4-year-old room and became the lead teacher in 2005. Rebecca earned a BA in Fine Arts from Loyola University New Orleans in 1991.