New Tehiyah class fills not-ready-for-kindergarten gap

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Children who aren’t ready for kindergarten but are too advanced for preschool have a new option in the East Bay starting this fall: Tehiyah Bridge Kindergarten.

It joins the JCC of the East Bay in offering an alternative to kindergarten and preschool for Jewish children who need something in between.

“Every single year we have students apply to kindergarten, and for a variety of reasons they’re not ready, but they’re done with their preschool program, which puts us in an awful bind,” said Amy Utstein, admissions director at Tehiyah, which serves students in grades K-8. “We have to tell them, ‘I’m sorry, but we can’t accept you to the kindergarten program.’ Yet there was nowhere else for them to go. It was a heartbreaker.”

So after much planning — and renovating a house across the street from the school in the El Cerrito hills — Tehiyah Bridge Kindergarten will be up and running in August for the 2010-11 school year.

Utstein said it’s a dream come true.

“Tehiyah could see a really strong need and wanted to respond to that need in the community,” said Susan Danek, director of the new program.

Danek is a marine biologist and scientist who transitioned into early childhood education in 1990. She has taught kindergarten for 10 years and preschool for nine.

Tehiyah Day School renovated a house across from the main campus for the new bridge-k program.

“What’s going to be special about Tehiyah’s Bridge-K is that it will be a school that focuses on joyful Jewish education as well as … emphasizing biology and ecology,” Danek said. “I think children at this age are naturally curious and natural scientists.”

Danek will incorporate math and science into many activities, including lessons on composting, gardening, plants, insects, animal habitats, water conservation and watershed restoration.

“I see the backyard as an extension of our indoor classroom,” Danek said.

Storytelling, language arts and Judaic studies also will figure prominently into the program. For instance, language arts will often be taught in Hebrew and English. Even the science instruction will blend with Jewish learning, Danek said.

“I hope to grow figs and apples, so that on Rosh Hashanah we can have a celebration with what we grew,” Danek said.

Class will be hands-on and interactive, with lessons to nurture a child’s artistic, academic, social, emotional and physical needs.

The school day will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., with before- and after-care included in the tuition along with kosher snack and lunch. The program starts in late August.

Children who have enrolled fall into two camps: those with late-fall birthdays who are too young for kindergarten but have outgrown their preschool programs, and children who may be old enough and ready academically for kindergarten but need more time to develop their social and emotional skills.

“It’s nice to be able to honor your children and give them the gift of time — because once they start in kindergarten, they don’t stop until they’re done,” Danek said.

For Marni Fischer and Jean Shrem of El Cerrito, Tehiyah Bridge Kindergarten started up just in time. Their 4-year-old daughter, Logan Shrem-Fischer, has a January birthday and is therefore too young for kindergarten.

But because her preschool peers are all entering kindergarten in the fall, she’d be the oldest student in her preschool class by nearly two years. The age gap was too big to keep her there, Fischer said.

“Our big concern was moving her too frequently,” Fischer said. “We wanted a pre-K program that would move into kindergarten so she’d stay at least two years. … We’ll assess where she’s at after kindergarten. But if I had to guess, she’ll probably end up staying.”

For information, visit or call (510) 233-3013 ext. 239.


Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.