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SAR Opens New Early Learning Center

SAR ELC unveils new classroom. (Credit: Lea Domestico)

SAR built its new ELC on the site of the previous facility. (Credit: Lea Domestico)

Bright and airy staircase in newly opened SAR ELC. (Credit: Lea Domestico)

On Tuesday, September 8, SAR’s brand-new Early Learning Center will welcome students for the first time. This new 32,000-square-foot building was designed to house over 200 ELC students and, for this unique COVID-19 school year, was reconfigured to accommodate the first grade, as well.

“This is the culmination of three years of work,” said SAR Principal Binyamin Krauss. “One of envisioning and planning, and two, including six COVID months, of building, tweaking, furnishing and moving. We are blessed to have an ELC director, Alana Rifkin Gelnick, who thinks big and executes small, leaving no detail dropped.”

Krauss continued, “We are grateful to the donors who made this possible, with a lead gift from Stephen and Nataly Neuwirth, who will dedicate the building to honor their fathers, Meyer Ouaknine, z”l, and Paul Neuwirth. This project’s success is also due to Nathan Kahn, the lay leader who worked with us on this project, contributing hundreds of hours to move this along, and Nick Fadda, our facilities manager, who oversaw all aspects of the construction.”

Gelnick stated, “It was definitely a group effort and together we made this big dream a reality! It was absolutely a collaborative effort between administration, lay leadership and teachers.” Gelnick added that she and Rabbi Krauss had the opportunity to show former ELC Assistant Principal Marcia Jacobowitz the space. “Without her, we could have never gotten here!”

Gelnick revealed, “We wanted to create an early childhood space that was whimsical and allowed for children to use their creativity in all spaces. We also worked to develop a space that was collaborative in nature, allowing for children to learn together, inspire each other and work together to construct a curriculum with their teachers.”

She added, “The space is open and vast. While this year, some of the open space has been transformed into classes for small pods of children, we look forward to welcoming a sensory gym and indoor play space next year.”

Gelnick described that she had the honor of showing her grandparents, Paul and Suzy Peyser, the building. “After being inspired by the openness and vastness of the space, they immediately declared that they wanted to make a donation for all the mezuzot in the interior of the building. As part of the hanging of our mezuzot, we want children involved, as with anything we do in this new building. Therefore, we plan on learning about mezuzah in all our classes within the first week of school, so together we can hang our mezuzot and share in the connection to our building.”

Grateful that the building is able to open for the 2020-2021 academic year, Krauss noted, “Timing is everything. Without this building we would not have been able to bring back our close to 1,000 students while maintaining the social distancing and spacing needed for a safe school year.”

ELC teacher Michelle Halpert shared, “The new building is amazing! It’s light and airy with a modern design with plenty of room to walk around and play. I’m excited to see my new students explore the unique and new furniture and watch them create, explore, learn and make great memories in our new space together.”

Naomi Semer, another ELC teacher, added, “I am so excited to be teaching in the new building and to have been a part of the planning. Each teacher was asked questions about what they would like to see in the building and in their classroom, like furniture, and I enjoyed being a part of that. Each floor has extra space that I anticipate we can use as teachers to discuss curricular ideas together and plan together. I also anticipate being able to use the space to bring small groups of children for activities and games!”

When asked if anything of the old building remains, Gelnick said, “We painted the chairs from the main office and brought those and also the windows from the original carriage house were painted by teachers and will be hung in this building!”

Most importantly, she said, “The same love, attention to every child, knowing their individual spark, openness and play-based philosophy are at our center as well!”

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