BJE Educators Reflect on Positive Education Efforts

In fall 2021, as the myriad impacts of the pandemic were being felt by students, educators and families, BJE, with a generous grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, embarked on an effort to help strengthen schools’ ability to address wellness issues emerging in school communities. Positive Education merges the world of Mental Health support and the science of Positive Psychology with best practice teaching to support and encourage students, their families, their teachers and their schools to flourish.

On May 16, at Stephen Wise Temple, BJE gathered participants from the two cohorts of educators who participated in training and implementation over the past three years to explore how the climate has changed since the start of the initiative during COVID, look back at the implementation work they have been doing, and reflect on what Positive Education will look like in the community, moving forward.

Dr. Jon Piacentini, Professor of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, from UCLA CARES/Semel Institute, addressed the group, sharing what is now being seen in regard to children’s mental health.

Rabbi Rebeccah Yussman, Temple Menorah

“The session with Dr. Jon Piacentini was incredibly interesting and valuable. It put into context a lot of trends and issues we have seen in our school and provided not only data to explain the trends but also ideas on how we can help kids and families.”

Analilian Garcia, Temple B’nai Hayim Children’s Center

“The best relationship one can always have is the one surrounded by the most positive experiences and memories…now take this to a preschool setting and translate it into co-workers’ and children’s language. Education itself is power, now add the positive component and it will help us to transform unpleasant experiences into lessons we can learn from and we will have a Children’s center with happier parents, children and staff...I am thankful I was part of the cohort number 2 as it helped me by providing amazing tools to use in my journey as director of Temple B’nai Hayim Children’s Center.”

BJE launched its work in Positive Education with a four-part series for educators in its (part-time) Religious School Educators Network. With support from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles and in partnership with the Center for Positive Education, two cohorts of 14-15 educators each – drawn from 29 BJE-affiliated early childhood centers, day schools and part-time religious schools – participated in intensive training (and certification) and implemented aspects of their newly acquired learning.  

“Even before the pandemic, there were alarming trends in mental health among children and adolescents,” said David Lewis, Director of BJE’s Center for Excellence in Part-Time Jewish Education, who pioneered BJE’s involvement in Positive Education. “We saw an opportunity to bring schools a set of tools they could use to address wellbeing among students, parents and faculty. With such widespread participation in the training over the past three years, we’re confident that our Jewish schools in LA understand the importance of a focus on wellbeing and know much more than ever before about how to successfully relate to it.  We look forward to the next phase of this essential project.”