At the beginning of September, Beth Emeth Early Childhood Center (BEECC) welcomed Robin Cohen to the role of Center Director for the 2017-18 school year, with her goals being to enhance the fundamentals of the Reggio Emilia inspired curriculum and foster an environment that respects children’s ideas and thoughts while encouraging exploration of the world around them.
The school, located at 12523 Lawyers Road in Herndon, is an Early Childhood Development Center for ages 2 to 5, and offers small classes with low student-to-teacher ratios in a stimulating and loving environment. As of her second week on the job, Cohen was liking what she was seeing.
“It’s been going really well. It’s very busy, but I have felt an outpouring of support from the teachers and the community and that keeps me spinning in a positive way,” Cohen says. “One of my biggest goals was to make the community feel palpable.”
BEECC recently had its ‘Back to School’ kickoff and social, and Cohen could already see the excitement and feel the energy from the teachers and parents. It was strong enough to let her go home and fall asleep with a smile on her face.
The school revolves around the Reggio Emilia approach to educating the whole child, with Cohen describing its philosophy as being, “Reggio inspired.”
“It’s not a designed curriculum but basically a set of guiding principles—core beliefs and values and attitudes, that relate to every aspect of creating a culture of learning and teaching,” she says. “We’re inspired by the principles of the approach.”
One of the biggest things of the Reggio Emilia method is how they view children, as being, ‘capable and confident’ and the school believes children should be treated like citizens and should be included in every aspect of their learning.
“What we love most about the Reggio philosophy is how deeply they respect children and their process of learning and we want learning to come to life for them,” Cohen says. “There is a lot we do to support this view of children.”
For example, BEECC classrooms are set up as rich and stimulating environments so when the children come, they can be engaged in thinking and problem-solving, and teachers can then help guide them along to the next step of their thinking.
“It’s like children are researchers and their environment is their laboratory,” Cohen says.
“When they walk into their classrooms, they are treated with respect and the teachers partner along. There’s so much in the planning and the thought of what the teachers intentionally and purposely set out for the children to capture what they are interested in.”
Whether it’s doing pictures or taking video, the staff studies it and dialogues about it so when it’s relaunched the next day, the activity can be connected to what they learned the day before in a way that challenges them to the next level.
“I’m a very visual person and when you walk into this place, you can sense the energy that it has, and it’s very positive and happy,” she says. “So, when people come and see the classrooms, I’m able to explain to them in a more visual way of what their child is going to be doing.”
To Cohen, the most important thing the school offers are the skills to allow them to be both passionate for and harness learning for themselves, as those are what will help them throughout their lives.
“I feel like in this society right now, where we are so product-driven, and so focused on tests, being able to step back, slow down and have someone say to you, ‘let’s focus on the process and those internal life skills’ is actually refreshing,” she says. “Those intangible skills are what’s going to take them far.”
Cohen has more than 25 years of experience in education, most recently serving as curriculum developer for BEECC. She also was the founding Pre-K teacher of the award-winning Washington D.C. Capital City Public Charter School in 2000.
She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Brandeis University and a master of education from Harvard University, and studied Reggio Emilia in Italy, the birthplace of the unique educational approach.
BEECC serves Northern Virginia, including the areas of Reston, Herndon, Vienna, and Fairfax, and is open to all children regardless of ethnic, cultural or religious background. The center focuses on meeting the developmental needs of children in physical, emotional, social, cognitive and spiritual growth.
The school is also known for its Jewish program, introducing Jewish customs, traditions, and the Hebrew language to the curriculum. For instance, the school celebrates Shabbat in each classroom with a rotating “Shabbat child of the week” and there’s a monthly Shabbat morning program, which is designed to enhance the children’s introduction to Shabbat and other holidays through songs, dances, stories, discussions, and food.
For more information on BEECC, visit beecc.org or call 703-860-4515.