Danielle (“Dani”) Frye is a natural with kids. After all, she has been exposed to them her entire life.
Growing up on Long Island, N.Y., her mother was the director of a preschool at a Jewish Community Center. Like mom, like daughter: For the past four years, Frye has served as the senior director of the Stoler Early Learning Center at the Rosenbloom Owings Mills JCC.
A three-time graduate of Towson University, she majored in Deaf Studies as an undergraduate and holds two separate master’s degrees that specialize in early childhood and special education.
“I always knew I wanted to work with children,” says the 35-year-old, who just celebrated a birthday on Dec. 30.
She lives in Reisterstown with her husband, Joe Frye, and their two rescue pets: one cat and one dog.
What ages does the center encompass, and why is it so important that kids learn together early on?
The Stoler Early Learning Center welcomes children from 10 weeks through kindergarten. We know that education received in the first six years of life significantly influences later academic success. Students benefit from our constructivist approach to education, child-centered philosophy and play-based programs that focus on the fundamentals of learning in creative, personalized and innovative ways. Our students play and explore while learning important social skills, including cooperation, collaboration, risk-taking and problem-solving through meaningful, hands-on and engaging experiences beyond the classroom.
What is the best aspect to working with children? Do they really keep you young?
Working with children has always been something that I have been wildly passionate about. It is an honor to get to know each child on a personal level and figure out what makes them tick. In my role, I get to witness their growth firsthand as they develop self-confidence and learn something new. And as their partner on this journey, I am constantly learning alongside them and from them, and am in awe of how each of their mind’s work.
Their joy and their outlook on life is simply contagious; there is no such thing as a boring
day in preschool! Working with children is a constant reminder of how magical and full of wonder the world can be. I am lucky enough to be a part of their messy, marvelous learning process. I get to go home each night (albeit sometimes very late) feeling grateful that I have a career that I love, and that I have the privilege of making a difference in the lives of our students and their families. It doesn’t hurt that we have the best team of dedicated, innovative and creative educators that make this work so exciting every day.
You mentioned that the children call you by your first name, Dani. How has that tradition changed over the years, and do you think that’s a good thing?
In J Early Childhood, we celebrate diversity and appreciate what makes each of us unique, while also honoring B’tzelem Elohim, that we were all created in His Divine image; therefore, we strive to create an inclusive environment. Not all of our educators, families or even students identify as Ms. or Mr., so calling people by their first name allows us to make everyone feel accepted and welcome in a safe and comfortable learning environment conducive to social/emotional and academic success. Adding a title in front of our names implies that we, as educators, deserve a certain level of respect just because of our position when demonstrating kavod, “respect,” for others is an essential value of our program that needs to be mutual and earned. Calling everyone by their first name honors each individual and evens the playing field.
How has the pandemic altered early-childhood education? What are some good (and not so good) ramifications that came out of it?
It was a whirlwind! We were on call 24/7 for two years. And there were many adjustments to our program, including hours, enrollment options, policies and procedures. The pandemic allowed us to reflect on the impact that different program changes, such as hours in a day and class size, has had on our young children. We observed that having a longer opportunity for learning provided the consistency, structure and routine that allows children to strengthen their relationships, deepen their learning experiences and truly thrive.
Therefore, we no longer offer our half-day program from 9 a.m. to noon. It also encouraged us to bring back our kindergarten class to meet the needs of our community and to allow the children whose pre-k experience was forced to go virtual in March of 2020, to safely come together for in person learning in a way that allowed them to continue to work on their social/emotional learning during this imperative time in their lives. The best part about things transitioning back to this “new normal” is having families back in our school again for celebrations, volunteer opportunities and as engaged partners with our educators.
Describe some of the Jewish content taught at the center.
The Stoler Early Learning Center is rooted in and inspired by Jewish culture and values of compassion, respect and acceptance, thereby encouraging strong character development in all students. Learning about Jewish traditions, culture and holidays is an integral part of our program. We foster a love and an appreciation of family and community through our Jewish heritage. Our classes engage in exploration revolving around the Jewish holidays — from Rosh Hashanah to Shavuot — and to learn about rituals as they discover ways to bring to life core holiday concepts.
OK, can’t help it. How did you celebrate your birthday?
My husband surprised me with dinner at the Tillery and then I got to celebrate with my best friends on New Year’s.