FORT WORTH — Almost from its start in November 1952, the Fort Worth Jewish Community Preschool was a hit with young families.Now called the Lil Goldman Early Learning Center, after its pioneering founder, the preschool was the first in the city to be focused on child development. Within two years TCU was calling it the finest in Fort Worth. Alumni, staff and parents gathered this weekend to commemorate those six decades of success in nurturing children, and to look to the future, too.Anniversary events concluded with a family picnic Sunday afternoon at Congregation Ahavath Sholom. Community Sabbath observances at Beth-El Congregation and Congregation Ahavath Sholom were held earlier in the week.“I can’t believe it’s here,” said Karen Telschow Johnson, reunion coordinator, who expected 200 to 250 guests at the picnic.The school “was a great combination of formal education and Jewish learning,” said Johnson, whose son Ethan, now a fifth-grader at Tanglewood Elementary in Fort Worth, attended starting at age 2. “He was 3 years old and learning Hebrew. The emphasis was always on learning, and he absorbed it like a sponge.”Lillaine “Lil” Goldman opened the school with six students in November 1952 and charged their parents $12 a month. Ten months later enrollment had grown to 28.By 1956, the school had built such a strong reputation that non-Jewish parents were enrolling their children too, and the school became nonsectarian. TCU sent education students to observe its teaching methods, and physicians referred special-needs students there to enroll. The school changed names and locations several times, moving to its present home at Congregation Ahavath Sholom at 4050 S. Hulen St. in 1999.Goldman died the next year at age 87, and the school was renamed in her honor in 2001.Today the school has 20 staff members and 91 students, with an anticipated enrollment of 101 by next year. Monthly tuition ranges from $220 for two days a week to $980 for a full-day, five-day-a-week program. A few enrollment slots are left in some classes.“We are definitely looking forward,” said new director Rachel Blackmon. Though she has been at her post only since June, Blackmon has a history with the school.She taught there for more than two years before leaving to further her education; her son, like Johnson’s, is a former student.“It’s tough finding child care, a place where they feel welcome and comfortable, with a family atmosphere where they can build special relationships with other children and the staff,” Blackmon said.The school’s approach to learning is low-stress and validated by time.“We teach lessons through play and a way that seeks to encourage a child’s individuality,” Blackmon said.Teachers are all early learning professionals.“The teachers Ethan had are all still there,” said Johnson, who served on the board of directors while her son was enrolled. The stability of the teaching staff provides a sense of continuity and security for the children, she added.Though the student population is diverse, Goldman remains true to its heritage and traditions as a Jewish preschool. Children have the opportunity to study English, Hebrew and Spanish.Blackmon’s son attended Goldman for three years, and like many alumni, he still attends the Camp Shalom summer and winter camps.“The majority of our campers are previous students,” Blackmon said.The school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and maintains the standards of the National Association for the Education of Young Children.Though the school’s academic programs are highly rated, “it’s just a piece of what we offer,” Blackmon said.“Just as important as academics are our programs promoting our students’ social and emotional welfare,” she said.
Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657 Twitter: @shirljinkins