Hats Off to Our Teachers

This week’s cover story chronicles the illustrious career of Ilene Meister, who, after 30 years at the Meyerhoff Early Childhood Education Center at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC, will be leaving her position as director.

It’s undoubtedly the end of an era — she created a nutritional program that was recognized by Michelle Obama, gave teachers a say in school renovations and helped design playgrounds. She’s seen the second generation of some families come through the school in recent years.

JCC CEO Barak Hermann called her a “true force in early childhood.” Her influence will surely live on beyond her time at the JCC. Daniel Nozick’s story on her three decades at the JCC brought back some great memories for me of the teachers and college professors who inspired me.

There’s the guitar teacher (Randallstown resident Sandy Racher) who took my appreciation for music and my musical ability to new levels; the high school journalism teacher (Franklin High legend Jean Lillquist) who encouraged me and sharpened my writing skills but nevertheless called me out when I needed it; the college professors who prepared me to work in a real newsroom; and the many teachers and professors who gave me extensions when my Crohn’s disease was active. I’m not sure they all know how significant they remain in my life.

Ilene Meister seems to have had a similar impact. As Chad Berman told the JT, his son picked out a whole pomegranate, something Berman had never seen, at Trader Joe’s after learning about the fruit a few days before in school. I’d say it’s more than likely that his son may look back as an adult and thank Meister and the ECE for teaching him to make healthy choices.

Much like my chosen career in journalism, teaching and school administration can sometimes be a thankless job, but there are great rewards. I’m sure for Meister, it’s rewarding knowing that kids are making healthy choices because of one of her initiatives, enjoying playgrounds she helped bring to life, and that teachers have the resources they need because of her bringing them into discussions.

“The important thing for me was that every child deserves an early childhood education,” she said.

Perhaps she’s being humble.

As Hermann told the JT, “She has been incredible at customizing the early childhood experience to meet the needs of each individual child.”

And therein lies the key. While it’s vitally important to have a good school, the individual attention is just as crucial to ensure students are truly getting the most out of their education. I know I wouldn’t be the person I am today if not for that same thoughtfulness. And at a time when Jewish education is facing enrollment challenges, Meister’s lasting impact is even more significant.

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com

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