I Have Truly Loved Coming to Akiba Every Single Day for 30 Years
What were your career plans growing up?
I have always known that I wanted to be a teacher. In Kindergarten I started playing “school” and I was the teacher. My passion for teaching just grew from there. I was a camp counselor, taught Bat Mitzvah lessons, served as a sleepaway counselor and then earned a BA in Early Childhood Education from the University of Massachusetts. Then I moved to Chicago and got my first teaching job - at Akiba-Schechter!
What is your educational background? Did you envision yourself becoming a leader in Jewish early childhood education?
After my BA in Early Childhood Education, I got a Masters in Early Childhood for Leadership and Advocacy from National Louis University. I have been so grateful to be able to continue teaching in the classroom and play a leadership role at Akiba. I always envisioned doing both but when I was getting my Masters Degree, I didn’t know if it was really possible to do both.
Tell us about the early days at Akiba. What did you teach?
My first year at Akiba I taught 1st/2nd grade for half a day. It was my first teaching job, and I loved it. Since it was only half a day, I worked at an art gallery downtown in the afternoons. The next year at Akiba I moved to teaching in the Kindergarten for the full day, and for several years I taught with Rebecca Singer, who returned to Akiba two years ago and is currently teaching online preschool.
Carla and Rebecca in Kindergarten (probably 1994)
You began teaching at Akiba in 1991. How were the ‘90s at Akiba different from now? What has changed?
In the ‘90s Akiba was a much smaller school. We still had the same values and belief in how children learned. Our preschool curriculum has always been play based. Around 2000 we began studying Reggio Inspired learning and realized how beautifully this philosophy fit in with our play-based Jewish school and curriculum.
What has remained the same?
We have always been very proud of the work we do with young children at Akiba. We have always believed in the importance of social/emotional learning and celebrating childhood. Akiba has remained a place to be joyful, to sing and dance, a place where coming home dirty means you had a good day. The teachers have always been supportive of each other and are tremendously dedicated to the school.
Staying with the same organization for 30 years is truly remarkable. Which key factors allowed you to build such a successful career at Akiba?
I feel so grateful that I found my passion and my home at Akiba at such a young age. I found a place where I could stay and continue to grow every day. As Akiba has grown, so have I. Each year, or really each day, presents a new challenge. I believe that we humans are lifelong learners and I continue to strive to be better in the classroom, with our children and with our families. I have loved being able to work with children, teachers and families. I find it very rewarding. I also enjoy working with the entire Akiba leadership team and supporting each other. I have found a place where I can continually make a difference, and for that I am grateful.
What are some of your favorite memories at Akiba?
I love our special celebrations: Thanksgiving with our families, taking a trip to Israel on Lag B’Omer, creating a new program that children and families enjoy, and of course every Shabbat. I also love the everyday moments of connecting with children and families. Nothing feels better than seeing a child grow and blossom. I cherish the conversations I have had with a child while drawing a picture or building with blocks. I love watching a teacher create something amazing and witnessing the excitement the children and teacher have together in their journey. Our teachers are truly remarkable and we have such a strong and talented team.
Looking back at our response to the pandemic and how we handled it at Akiba, I am very proud. Running an early childhood program online was tremendously challenging. Nevertheless, when the pandemic forced us to shut down last spring, we managed to pivot quickly and engage children every day for the spring and summer. We also created a new program this year: Teva Means Nature. For me, this class was a silver lining of the pandemic. It has been an incredible experience to create something new, something that kept those families, who were not able to join us in the building, engaged with Akiba, a program that offered the opportunity to spend time with children and families outside, exploring and learning together.
What do you find most difficult in your current role?
The days go so quickly ….. There is never enough time in the day to get everything accomplished that I would like to do. I want to be there for everyone - the children, the parents and the teachers. It’s hard to do that every day.
How did winning the Kohl/McCormick Early Childhood Teaching Award in 2000 affect your career?
It was a very exciting time. I went into labor with my son, Zev, the night I won the award! So I also became a mom then, too! I believe it helped me see that I could have an impact on the field of early childhood education beyond Akiba-Schechter. It showed me that I had something to offer others in our field and that I could play a larger role in early childhood in Chicago, while working at Akiba. We have become leaders in the field of Early Childhood Education at Akiba, and I am very proud of that. My teachers and I have led workshops and offered seminars. Delegations from China have visited our school to learn from us. Each time we share our knowledge, we grow and improve ourselves.
Looking back at 30 years at Akiba, what amazes you most about your time here?
I feel so grateful that I have truly loved coming to Akiba every single day for 30 years. I know that sounds corny and trite, but it is absolutely true. Even when things are challenging, and these past twelve months have certainly been like no others, I still feel lucky to be doing what I am doing every day. I look back at the impact I have been able to have on so many children and families, and I am really proud of that work. I am also continually amazed by the Akiba community, and how we hold each other and support each other. I have been told that this doesn’t happen other places, and I am glad that I have never had to find that out.