April Schafer, Director of Early Childhood Learning Center
Shalom! My name is April Schafer and I am the Director of ECLC.
I grew up in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a small suburb outside of Detroit. I am the oldest of my siblings and cousins and somehow always found myself at the kids table at all the large family events and you can still find me there today! I started college as an engineering major at Michigan State University and quickly learned it was not going to be the fulfilling career I had envisioned for myself. I took my first collegiate level child development class and it all clicked! I spent the next week in my advisor's office begging for overrides into every child development and early childhood education class I could get my hands on. I spent the next four years working in various preschool and child-care settings, and ultimately graduated from MSU with a bachelor of science degree in human ecology with an emphasis on youth development.
After graduation, like most of my Michigan cohorts, I wanted to go out and explore the rest of the country. I moved to the amazing city of Chicago, Illinois and began teaching pre-kindergarten as well as attended DePaul University obtaining my master’s degree in elementary education with an endorsement in middle school. While in a full time graduate program, I began working for CHALK Preschools, in Chicago, as the director of their Clybourn Corridor location. After two years, I was presented with the opportunity to relocate to sunny California to help open the wildly successful Westwood location and shortly after that, the location in Venice.
I always envisioned myself living in sunny SoCal. As a youngster my lifetime aspiration was to be a movie star and knew I would make it to Hollywood one day. I spent a lot of time listening to the Beach Boys and making California Girls my motivation. While I still haven’t lived out the Hollywood starlit dream, I did however make it to Los Angeles and I could not be more thrilled to be a part of such an incredible, multifaceted city. During my free time I love to explore all of the wonderful things LA has to offer. I love hiking, the beach, frequenting the local farmer’s markets, trying all the mouthwatering popup restaurants, the museums, etc. I have been here for five years now and still find surprises around every corner and a new “favorite spot” each week.
I am very excited to get to know and work with all of the wonderful families at University Synagogue and ECLC. If I were to say early childhood education is my passion and the absolute love of my life it would be an understatement. From an educator standpoint, the joy I receive in hearing the laughter, constant questions and outlandish stories conjured up by the heartfelt, vivid imagination of children is the most honest reward and gift any child can give. Having the privilege of being part of the educational growth and development of children is rewarding and wonderful. Here at University Synagogue’s Early Childhood Learning Center (ECLC) you will be surrounded by teachers who look at teaching as not a job, but as a passion, a love and a commitment. I look forward to meeting you all and welcoming you into our community!
Jessica Shamout, Director of Jewish Education
Hi! My name is Jessie Shamout and this is my second year as a member of the University Synagogue executive staff team. I was born and raised right here in Los Angeles, and simply loved all my Jewish education opportunities. I spent my summers at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, went to religious school on Tuesday afternoons, and joined a youth group early. I really enjoyed the feeling of community I got from hanging out with my Jewish friends. It was a different sort of community than I got at secular school.
I attended the University of Arizona as a Judaic Studies major and immersed myself into the Jewish community in Tucson. I taught religious school at two synagogues, served as a youth group advisor for three years, and was appointed to the Arizona Hillel student board. I really enjoyed my college experience, but was ready to say goodbye to 110 degree weather so I moved back to Los Angeles after graduation.
I knew I wanted to stay in the world of education, but wanted to broaden the scope a bit since I had worked for so long in the Jewish community. I attended the University of Southern California where I received a master’s degree in higher education administration. I loved working with college students and learning about K-12 and higher education policy. After being a Trojan for a few years, I drifted over to that school across town and worked at the University of California, Los Angeles where I worked primarily with students with learning disabilities. One thing was clear from all my education: I simply loved diving deeper into the concept of learning – I loved watching students learn and help them figure out how they learned best.
After several fulfilling years in the higher education world, I knew I was ready to move back into the Jewish community full time. I started teaching religious school again, I developed a project-based learning program at Temple Isaiah, I continued tutoring, and slowly found myself embraced by the University Synagogue family. When the position of director of Jewish education opened up, it seemed like a natural fit and an easy decision.
As I begin my second year at University Synagogue I feel so welcomed and comfortable by all the religious school and ECLC families – I truly love watching these kids learn and embrace their Judaism. Never before have I really been able to understand the text from our Babylonian Talmud: “Much I have learned from my teachers, more from my colleagues, but most from my students.”
It’s going to be a great year!
Alana Levitt, Assistant Director
Hello friends! I’m so excited for another year of fun here in the preschool. My name is Alana Levitt and I am the Assistant Director of the preschool and the Caterpillars (Parent and Me Class) Class teacher.
In “preschool-years” a year is a lot and we look forward to learning new things, making new friends and enjoying the holidays, birthdays, and milestones that await us this year. Thank you for trusting us with your precious children. We are honored and excited for the opportunity to help both you and your child learn and grow this year!
I grew up in San Diego and have been involved in synagogue life since childhood. I went to Jewish preschool, attended religious school and was very involved in Jewish youth group on a local and regional level. I feel most at home when I'm around children and families, I enjoy the chaos! My goals are to provide enriching programming that helps build community and support the growth of young minds as well as the entire family and community. I have a BA in Human Development from Sonoma State University and am currently perusing my MAEd in Early Childhood at American Jewish University. I have worked in schools, camps, after school programs, and even a toy store- basically where there are kids, I'm there. My husband Sam and I have three children; Molly (8) Jordan Lilly (4) and Dylan (2), plus our dog Gloria (11) means that I have my hands full both at home and in school- and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
Caterpillar Class (Parent-Infant)
Afternoon Program Coordinator
Bears and Penguins