Marla Becker - Director
With limitless enthusiasm, an array of subspecialties, and years of experience in both secular and Jewish education, I am enormously proud to lead Gan HaYeled Preschool for the Jewish Federation of Madison.
Growing up, two of my most powerful influences were my family’s strong connection to our Jewish heritage and a deep appreciation for education, modeled by my mother who enjoyed a long career as an educator - starting in the public school system and eventually as a leader and administrator in the Los Angeles’ Jewish community’s day school. While at college, I found that my own lifelong love for theater could be combined with traditional education to great effect for students of all levels. After receiving my Master’s in Education (with a psychology emphasis) from Pepperdine university, I taught 5th and 6th grades in the southern California public school system for four years, along the way earning my California Teaching credentials with a CLAD emphasis.
I stepped away from teaching for a while to raise our three daughters but as they began their careers as students, the call of the classroom once again beckoned. I worked part time as a reading specialist, a tutor for special needs children, and preschool drama specialist. Soon I was teaching pre-K and kindergarten classes; and during summer breaks, I organized and conducted weeklong reading/acting camp workshops to help kids maintain their momentum into the new school year. These workshops were a hit with both the students and their families and eventually developed into The Peanut Butter Clubhouse—a kindergarten home-school co-op that provided a new option for our local families that wanted a Jewish preschool and kindergarten experience. This organic approach of using play and theater to combine Jewish and secular studies continued to evolve and the following year, we partnered with our local synagogue to launch TikvaTots, a Jewish preschool with multiage integration. I was director and teacher for the next three years.
In August of 2011, I moved to Madison with my husband and children. Within a few months, I began working at Madison Jewish Community Day School as the secular teacher for kindergarten through fifth grade, and in 2016 became its director.
It is my absolute joy to return to the preschool setting here at Hilde L. Moss Gan HaYeled, where over the years, parents, children and staff have created a wonderful community and home. It is my pleasure and my honor to help guide these young children as they explore and engage their world through the unique lens of Jewish culture and tradition.
Jerri McCallum-Schwartz - Lead Teacher
I graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a bachelor’s degree in preschool and kindergarten education and I taught kindergarten for 2 years before starting a family with my husband, Bob. Bob and I have three daughters, all proud graduates of Gan HaYeled. I have been teaching at Gan HaYeled for 26 years and feel so lucky to have a job where I can laugh every day. It’s so fun to work together with great teachers and great kids.
I have been a volunteer Advance Emergency Medical Technician for the past 28 years. In my spare time I enjoy gardening, playing guitar and spending time with my grandson, Oliver.
Tina Schwartz - Master Teacher
During my junior year at the University of Denver, I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up! I graduated early with a degree in elementary education and special education, so my husband and I could get married; because his parents said, "finish school first". We decided to move to Madison, Wisconsin so that we were near family. Now we have lived here for over 38 years and raised our family of two daughters who are kind, caring, and hardworking individuals. Judaism is an integral part of our lives so we chose Gan HaYeled for our children to develop their self-identities as Jewish people. They are now making their own contributions to communities - Anna is an Assistant Superintendent and Alison is an Infectious Disease Physician.
This is my 30th year teaching in this fine preschool, building foundations of learning & life skills in every child, and l'dor vador (from generation to generation), my grandson, Henry, has just begun his own journey in the 2 year old classroom! (I am ever so fortunate to have 3 more grandchildren, too- Tova, Masden and Bode). While teaching, I also enjoyed the rewards of being the Kindergarten Sunday School teacher at Temple Beth El for 25 years - acting as a gateway to learning for families there and creating another wonderful connection to the Madison Jewish community. I have also been a Camp Director, Camp Secretary, and a Homebound Teacher for the Madison Metropolitan School District K-12 students. All of these positions were very important to building children's life skills, instilling the love of lifelong learning and having FUN.
You may ask... what's most gratifying in this for me? It is that my students still say hello, have conversations with me or give me hugs, again reminding me that I have made a difference in their lives along the way.
Annie Wanless - Lead Teacher
I have been teaching at Gan since 1989 and consider Gan my second home! I attended the University of Milwaukee High School and University of Wisconsin-Madison where I took six semesters of Hebrew and lived in “Kibbutz Langdon” which was the Jewish Co-op at the time. I have four grown children who are all Gan HaYeled graduates and still have close friendships from their preschool days. It is a very close-knit, caring community and I am so lucky to be able to explore and discover new and exciting ideas and educational practices with the children.
I find delight in all of the busy activities we do every day. I enjoy cooking and doing mitzvot with the children. I especially love to watch preschoolers experience something for the first time and see the wonder and joy they feel when they make a new discovery. Love it!