YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood

Growing Children’s Hearts and Minds in Be Me

As a child of the 70’s and 80’s, I was blessed with Mister Rodgers as the key television personality in my formative years of television watching. I still do remember the opening and closing songs. “It’s such a good feeling to know you’re alive…” and while I can’t say that any one episode or sketch stood out for me, years later I can attest that the show laid out a blueprint for a healthy emotional intelligence that still might be unmatched in children’s television programming. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood probed the depth of children’s feelings and did not shy away from difficult topics such as love, divorce, and death. I sometimes wish Mister Rogers was required viewing for anyone audacious enough to raise children.

When I take a moment and truly reflect about the opportunity our Be Me after school parents have provided for our staff to influence and impact their children’s minds and hearts, I often find myself stunned. What a responsibility! What an honor! To be trusted with the most important investments of your lives for literally hundreds of hours in the formative years of their lives! To some it might just be “coverage” or “child care,” but go watch two minutes of Mister Rogers and you will remember that this is sacred work.

Great child educators offer us important insights often by asking us simple yet profound questions. One such question from Mister Rodgers: “Did you ever grow anything in the garden of your mind? You can grow ideas in the garden of your mind. All you have to do is think and they’ll grow.” I invite you to ask your children, reflecting on their time at Be Me, what ideas are they growing in the gardens of their minds? We will ask them as well….

Each month Be Me has a different theme. One of our recent monthly themes was “reflection.” We not only learned, but we practiced what it means to reflect on an experience after having the experience. We asked our activity specialists to make sure to include time for reflection after EVERY activity. They instructed the Be Me students to “think about what you just did and learn from it.”

As a staff member, I believe we are not taking these monthly themes seriously if we aren’t using them ourselves to evaluate our own work and our own goals. Thinking about the impact of Mister Rogers on my own childhood is propelling me to include some of his ideas and inspiration in our next staff training. I’m already excited!

By Rabbi Ezra Weinberg, Jewish Life and Enrichment Manager

About the Y
Established in 1917, the YM&YWHA of Washington Heights & Inwood (the Y) is Northern Manhattan’s premier Jewish community center — serving an ethnically and socio-economically diverse constituency — improving the quality of life for people of all ages through critical social services and innovative programs in health, wellness, education, and social justice, while promoting diversity and inclusion, and caring for those in need.

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