Staff Spotlight: Leah Bleidistel
Interview with Leah Bleidistel, Assistant Director for Curriculum and Programs
Leah Bleidistel is one of our dedicated staff members who first started coming to the Alpert JCC when she was a child. She went to camp here and attended many activities (including Hebrew High) that took place in the building. She loved the J and knew that when her oldest son, Michael, got to preschool age (he is now 22), I wanted him to go to the J. It was pure fortune that she also eventually started working here.
As Leah explains, “I came here in 2000, so Michael started in the old building. At the time, I was going to school to get a degree in studio art. After Michael went here for about a year, I talked to the ECE director at the time and got a job as a teaching assistant. That was very exciting because I was able to work while he was here. I have been so fortunate to be able to do that with each of my kids (Sydney is now 14 and Harlan is 6). That has been amazing—just to be able to see them every day and know they are having the same wonderful experience I had here. Last year was Harlan’s final year in the preschool, so now he’s in Kids’ University. My kids have been here practically since I had kids!
“I worked here as a teaching assistant for several years while I was in school, and then I left for a while to get my Master’s Degree in Education. Although my plan was to be an elementary school teacher in the Long Beach school district, the J just kept calling me back. After I got my Multiple Subject Credential, I substituted in the school district for a while, but I decided that I missed the J. I wanted to be working with the children in our preschool. I came back and I was a substitute teacher in ECE for several years, and I subbed in just about all the areas of the school: movement, reading, etc. When I was offered a full-time position, I started with the two year olds, but have had all the ages over the past 5-7 years.
“One of the reasons I came back to the J was that I had learned a lot about Early Childhood Education and brain development, and it was so far from what I was seeing in the public schools, but it was adopted and taught here. That was really important to me. The play-based education that we emphasize here—where we involve the children in their own learning and they are involved in their own experiences—gives them such an enhanced education. That is how children learn, it’s how we all learn, most effectively. We can’t just be told something, we have to experience it. That’s why I connect so well with our early childhood philosophy and how well it starts their educational process.
“And I just love working with the kids and their families. It’s just so much fun. Getting to know the children and seeing them grow and l. They start when they are two and you get to watch them develop like your own children. You get invested in them and their families and it’s exciting to watch them grow and learn. I love working in ECE with all the teachers and other staff. We have a great team that supports each other. I’m grateful for the opportunity.
“Last July, I went from working full time as a teacher to being offered my current position. I had met with Jeffrey Rips, our Executive Director, about ways I could get really involved in the administrative side and how the school is run, and so I was very excited for this opportunity to step up and help make our amazing school even better.
“I’ve felt this incredible connection to the J since I was young. It just feels like home, and that I’m part of a community, a family. It means a lot that my children still come here and also have that connection. My oldest still visits here and loves to visit his old teachers. My two youngest will both be in Camp Komaroff this summer. It’s not just me, it’s my whole family. We all love it here, and it feels very natural that this is where I work.”