On June 20, as students and faculty left SAR for the summer, they said goodbye to not only friends, teachers and colleagues, but to the original Early Learning Center (ELC) building as well. On that day, the doors closed for the final time on that original edifice, as SAR prepared to begin construction on its new ELC building the very next day.
In a letter to SAR parents, Principal Rabbi Binyamin Krauss explained: “With SAR Academy’s 50th anniversary approaching, we are thrilled to announce a new project that appropriately marks this milestone—the creation of a new ELC building for our youngest SAR students. The new building will be created for 21st-century learning, it will be environmentally friendly and it will be created as a platform for life and learning that is philosophically aligned with SAR’s values of respect, compassion and Torah.”
Even though the new ELC will house a lunchroom, a cooking classroom, a sensory gym, an indoor imagination playground, additional outdoor space and a rooftop playground, many ELC faculty, parents and alumni have mixed feelings seeing the original building being demolished.
ELC faculty member Naomi Semer reflected, “I’ve taught in the ELC for 19 years. I will miss the mats for rest that still have the names crossed out from kids I taught 15 years ago.” Semer’s wish list for the new facility includes “bathrooms in each classroom, extra communal space for the kids to play in on rainy and extra snowy days, more storage space for the teachers’ materials and lots of wall space to display the artwork the kids make!”
Scarsdale resident and SAR alum Jodi Scheinman reminisced, “I was a student for two years at the ELC; I remember lining up outside on the wall with Morah Elsa saying ‘b’shura’ (in line). I also know that because I was so small, as a kid, I was always the baby when playing house at recess because I fit into the doll cradle. I also loved my teachers Morah Edith and Morah Chaya.”
Morah Edith Oppenheimer still resides in Riverdale, and worked at the ELC from 1974 to 1992. Oppenheimer fondly remembers those 18 years. “The environment at the school was one of joy, respect, adventure and camaraderie. The curriculum was diverse and crafts such as cooking, sewing and painting were incorporated, as well. It was a highly stimulating day for a 5-year-old, and lots of fun.” She continued, “We were a close-knit circle comprised of parents, teachers and students. I still get stopped on the streets by my former students who now have their own children enrolled at SAR.”
ELC alum Paulette Morris has been on the ELC faculty for the past two years. “I spent 12 years as an ELC parent and of course as a student myself. I am so excited about the new building; being able to bring the warmth of the ELC to a state-of-the-art building is thrilling. I am looking forward to a room with beautiful views, wall space and storage. I have no doubt the new building will exceed my expectations!”
In the style of SAR’s signature “report cards,” ELC Associate Principal Alana Rifkin Gelnick wrote a final “anecdotal” about the ELC building: “The ELC building is strong, sturdy, versatile and beautiful. These qualities have made it integral and indispensable to all that we do in the ELC. We have come to count on its cold stone exterior to shield us from the elements, most of the time anyway, while always enveloping our caring teachers and vibrant children with warmth and safety each and every day. Over the course of 18,250 days (50 years!), the building has grown significantly, and in so many ways. It has expanded in size, starting with just a few classrooms and growing to twelve, and what began as a structure for just a handful of students has blossomed into an edifice for over 200.”
Gelnick also noted how flexible the old building was, adding classrooms, teachers’ rooms, hallways and fire escapes as needed. The building was rewired to accommodate smartboards; cubbies were added to accommodate jackets and bags. The building always found a way to stretch its limits.
Gelnick concluded the anecdotal by saying: “You have been and meant so much to all the children, teachers and staff that were fortunate to enter your doors. When we think about you, we smile brightly and when we reminisce on our times together, we will remember them fondly. As we enter the next chapter in your world, know that we are appreciative for your companionship, your commitment and your consistency, but, most of all, we are grateful for your unyielding generosity. We will miss you, and the beauty that you were inside and out, but we look forward to the new building that will be built on your foundation and sharing in the many new experiences in the months and years to come!”
By Judy Berger