You Should Know … Shayna Gruner

Shayna Gruner
Shayna Gruner (Courtesy of Shayna Gruner)

Shayna Gruner, 29, grew up admiring her mother’s work as a teacher. But she hadn’t planned on going into education herself.

Gruner is from Baltimore and attended the Yeshiva of Greater Washington growing up. Before going into education, Gruner completed medical assistant training. Now, she is certified as an infant, toddler and preschool teacher.

Gruner, a resident of Pikesville, currently works as the Judaics, curriculum and engagement coordinator of Stoler Early Learning Center and camp director of Noah’s Ark Preschool Camp.

How did you hear about this position?

I was actually a teacher [at the JCC of Greater Baltimore] for a couple years. I started in Park Heights, and when COVID hit, both schools merged together, and I came to Owings Mills during the pandemic.

We had the school and facility open up in the summer of 2021, and then I started here in Owings Mills the same year. I always used to make my own visual aids and resources and songs and my own books. At the end of the year, [the director] surprised me with the Saxon Award for Educational Vision.

What did receiving that award mean to you?

I am still pretty speechless. I think that there are so many amazing educators, and that we all have different strengths and talents and go above and beyond to really meet each child’s needs where they’re at. The most important thing in our early childhood center is focusing on the whole child. My idea was that I would teach the children about weather by actually experiencing it. The people here really celebrate you and want to help you grow.

What is the most fulfilling part of your job?

I get to be a part of so many people’s journeys. I get this amazing opportunity to get to know not only the children in the school but also their families. I get to spend time with the teachers, and I get to work with and be a partner for our partner organizations and reach out to them.

I get all these opportunities to do different outreach projects. I’m encouraged to build programs and get executives involved. Last year during Purim, I reached out to all the different departments, and our CEO [Barak Hermann] dressed as Haman in our Purim spiel. We invited all the families and the really important people here who work around the clock and always make time to build relationships with the community. It was really special to see the person who oversees both JCCs [get involved]. He even let me make his costume. It was pretty hilarious, to say the least. He made time out of his busy day for fittings. The most meaningful part is that I get the opportunity to bring a lot of the values and traditions that I have and marry them in our community school.

We’re not just focused on one denomination, we’re focused on an entire community where we focus on Jewish values. I think that’s probably the most special part, that I get to learn about others. I get to be part of their lives and I’m always in an environment where I’m challenged.

How would you describe your relationship with Judaism?

I think it’s complex. Judaism is a very important part of my identity and my lifestyle.

Everything that I do revolves around all the values and practices that are embedded in me, whether it’s through lessons at school or through my own family’s traditions. I think that when it comes to being on your own personal journey of Judaism, there are always parts of that journey where it sometimes feels like you’re always trying to climb a little closer and a little further.

Sometimes there are a lot of stumbling blocks. I feel very grateful to be Jewish and to be a part of a religion that is full of love.

Who are you most grateful for throughout your career and personal journey?

I’m very, very grateful to everyone along the way, but a huge shout out to my mom. Her name is Morah Henya. She was an educator for 39 years and always had multiple jobs. Even though she worked around the clock, she would take me to Silver Spring from Baltimore. We’d leave at 6 a.m., and then when she was done teaching, she would do aftercare and then she would tutor. She would leave early some days to go to Hebrew school. Everywhere she went, she took me and I got the opportunity to learn from her in so many different ways. A few years ago, I fell into the field of education because someone really believed in me. I never planned on being a teacher.

I guess that’s where all my gratitude comes from. I never planned on any of it. I even got to be my mother’s assistant. She taught Judaics and she did everything in Hebrew. To teach her children the Hebrew vocabulary, she’d have the children jump up on tables and say “shulchanot,” [table]. It was such an experiential, fun, engaging lesson. That’s how I really learned a lot about how children learn.

Shira Kramer is a freelance writer.

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