About a year ago, the Tucson chapter of the Brandeis National Committee began discussing ways to bring more parents of young children into their fold. “We were told that the way to reach this age group was through their children,” says Roz Kraft, a co-leader of the Brandeis study group. “The time of young parents is so divided the only way is through activities that engage parents and children together.”
The Brandeis group has forged a successful partnership with the Tucson Jewish Community Center, presenting a weekly Brandeis/JCC Intergenerational Reading Enrichment class. Taking the advice of Scott Zorn, director of the children, youth and family engagement department, the group found the easiest way to get involved was to segue into the after-school program at the JCC.
Terri Freed, a volunteer with Brandeis, has been instrumental in preparing and implementing literacy lessons on Wednesdays from 3 to 4 p.m., with children who are already at the JCC. The children range from kindergarten age to third grade. The first 10 sessions of the new partnership took place from September to December; the second series will go into late March.
“It’s more than reading a story to the children,” says Megan Zucco, assistant children’s department director. “It’s a literacy lesson. The kids ask questions and have an art project afterward. They get to learn so much from their elders. The kids are always so excited about going every Wednesday.”
Before moving to Tucson in 2008, Freed was an elementary school principal, classroom teacher and reading specialist in Haddonfield, N.J. “As a reading specialist, I believe it’s extremely important from a very young age for children to develop comprehension skills,” Freed told the AJP. “Classrooms are large here [in the public schools] so any opportunity to work in small groups and develop a love of reading is my goal.”
The weekly JCC class is “embedded in using quality literature,” she says. Taking into account the children’s background knowledge and vocabularies, Freed picks one skill to work on each week with the six to 12 children who attend.
On Feb. 12, Brandeis Committee volunteers started a cooking class for children in kindergarten to fourth grade. Nine children attended a preview class in January, says Harriet Katz, the other Brandeis enrichment project co-leader. “We made Israeli salad and hummus. Today we made hamantaschen. The class went through all the steps, like on a cooking show. They all went home with finished hamantaschen.
“I don’t care if they were boys or girls,” adds Katz, “they all loved being in bubbe’s kitchen, which is what the class is called.”
The Brandeis group is also planning to start a writing class, says Freed, who’s passionate about the reading-writing connection and will develop the new writing program. As for the literacy class, “I’d like this program to continue but we need someone else to take it over,” she says. “I can’t do everything.”