King Solomon was known to have coined the expression, "Educate the child accordingly so that when he grows old, he will not leave." In other words, take advantage of the child's education as soon as possible.
In modern times, this admonition certainly applies to preschool, and it's something that my day care school, the Bilowit Learning Center, based in the Lomita-Torrance area, has always taken as a mission.
It's why we were one of 600 preschools to apply for funding from Los Angeles Universal Preschool (LAUP), a new nonprofit that seeks to establish or to advance affordable high quality prekindergarten education to public and private schools in Los Angeles County. LAUP's goal is to make preschool universally accessible to every 4-year-old in Los Angeles County. With money from Proposition 10, LAUP funds and expands preschool programs.
Bilowit Learning Center was one of the lucky first 100 schools selected last spring in a countywide lottery as a LAUP school, receiving more than $100,000 in funding.
That good fortune was just the beginning of a process. With the LAUP funding, we hired a new special educator to direct our program, added two new teachers and redesigned the preschool classes with new activity centers.
We then advertised "Preschool for Free -- How Can It be?" and left our number to call. Children were admitted on a sliding scale, so that all who were interested could attend. Who would believe that in a few months, the number of preschoolers attending our school would double to more than 40, thanks to the LAUP program?
Through this process, parents of children from all nationalities and ethnic backgrounds had the opportunity to see a Jewish school for the first time, often meeting a rabbi for the first time or learning from peers why some people wear yarmulkes. They saw that, yes, people with different religions, beliefs and backgrounds can get along, working side by side. All this in a safe and sound environment. Prejudices disappear and children learn trust.
In accordance with LAUP guidelines and our desire to provide an opportunity for children of all backgrounds to learn together, we provide secular education to the preschoolers for the half-day program. For the Jewish preschoolers, we offer an additional hour for Jewish studies.
My hope is that the transition from a preschool with such an environment will help children assimilate positively, by helping them live American ideals. We may be different, but we are all the same.
Everything starts with education. If we educate the very young in their most impressionable years, we may succeed in making progress toward the many challenges that lie before us. After all, it is much easier to plant a tree correctly than to reshape it in its maturity.
As the LAUP program increases, the great mosaic is drawn, each child adding beauty and trust. You should visit a LAUP preschool program and see the miracles it performs.
Rabbi Eli Hecht is vice president of the Rabbinical Alliance of America and past-president of the Rabbinical Council of California. He is the director of Chabad of South Bay in Lomita, which houses a synagogue, day school, nursery school and chaplaincy programs.