The lack of pay parity for skilled and talented educators, the unaffordable price tag on quality early childhood education, and the absence of robust federal and state level investments are key issues that fueled the formation of our Shma Koleinu: Hear Our Voices Coalition. Jewish values anchor our commitment to uplift our diverse early childhood communities and engage with stakeholders to champion crucial child care policies.
As members of Shma Koleinu, we bring these messages with us wherever we go, in our various roles, experiences, and collaborations. We welcome new partners on our ongoing mission of listening to and advocating for children, families, and early childhood education.
The following is an excerpt from reflections* shared by two valued Shma Koleinu members,
Shellie Dickstein and Ellen Greene.
Our History, Our Goals, Our Journey
Along with other colleagues working in Jewish nonprofit sector, we were feeling frustrated that we could not do advocacy work for the field as part of our educational portfolios because it was viewed as “political.” So, we reached out to Jewish early childhood directors and leaders to organize and create a volunteer consortium, outside of our formal work positions, to lend our Jewish voices (hence the name Shma Koleinu) to advocate for Federal, State and local support for these issues.
We began around the time of the 2020 elections building our own knowledge and trying to parse out the details about what proposals were being written on the Federal level. We connected with consultants to understand the political landscape and to train in how to speak to representatives and tell our stories, and then make calls to our representatives to support the family and early childhood proposals of the Build Back Better Bill. We learned that personalized stories and those of individual teachers and parents struggling were best. At the same time, we continued to get the word out and build our coalition of volunteers.
Leading up to the 2020 election, we also gathered resources about introducing young children to concepts of democracy and citizenship and made them available to educators on our website.
We each also had to learn about the local support mechanisms in each of our communities and report back at meetings so we could put together a picture of similarities and differences in localities. And many of us became involved with local efforts to get legislators to increase their budgets in support of early childhood and families.
We also started educating ourselves around issues of inclusivity and connecting to the broader early childhood movements to understand the experiences in minoritized communities.
When Build Back Better became the Inflation Reduction Act, we spent time phone banking to Congress to support the portion for children and families and even though nationally we were very disappointed as each of these proposals shrank and left the issues of children and families out, we never gave up, and will not give up, adhering to the saying from Pirke Avot, “Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor, lo alecha ligmor,” "You are not required to finish the work, yet neither are you permitted to desist from it.” We know this is ongoing work, and just recently leading up to the midterm elections, many of us worked to get out the vote for candidates that support our agenda and mission.
We are continuously advocating to elevate and personalize the field of early childhood education. Our members are like all of you, who have chosen our professional journey dedicated to young children and their families. They live all over the country and like you are leaders in our chosen field. The most remarkable part is that the focus of Shma Koleinu is ever changing with remarkable achievements so far in our ongoing journey.
*From AJU'S Early Childhood Education Mentors Meeting