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Starfish Initiative


Join fellow congregants making

a difference one student at a time ...



Goal and Activities of Temple Emanu-El (TEE) Starfish Initiative


The goal of the Temple Emanu-El (TEE) Starfish Initiative is to superserve the students and teachers in one or more Kindergarten classrooms designated by the principal at Wilkinson Elementary School, a Title I (high poverty) school in the Sarasota County School District, to

  • close the vocabulary gap, which often compounds the achievement gap, between these at-risk students and their peers from other socioeconomic groups;
  • inspire a love of reading and increasing reading readiness skills;
  • support the integration of hands-on science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) learning activities; and
  • increase the students’ life skills, self-esteem, and confidence through intergenerational mentoring.

The activities funded and implemented through the TEE Starfish Initiative are identified from

  • a wish-list solicited from the designated classroom teacher(s) by the TEE Starfish Steering Committee,
  • activities proposed by the TEE Starfish Steering Committee, and
  • activities proposed and implemented by Starfish volunteers based on their personal skills and interests as approved by the teacher and Steering Committee.

All activities must be pre-approved by the classroom teacher and, when appropriate, the principal.


The TEE Starfish Steering Committee will extend activities designed for the designated classroom to one or more of the other Kindergarten classrooms only when

(a) the principal approves and the classroom teacher is interested,

(b) it is appropriate for a specific activity,

(c) when we have a full measure of resources to do so, and

(d) when doing so does not compromise implementation in the designated classroom.


This initiative has been designed for easy replication and implementation by other groups/organizations in other classrooms, grade-levels, and settings.


The TEE Starfish Initiative programs and activities include but are not limited to the following:


  • Rockin’ Readers - Through this program designed for volunteers by the school district’s Curriculum & Instruction reading specialists, a volunteer reads aloud 1:1 weekly with a student throughout the school year to instill the love of reading and close the student’s vocabulary gap. The volunteer keeps notes on the student’s interest and progress and completes a feedback survey at the end of the school year.
  • Book Buddies - This program pairs a volunteer with a student to gift books to build the student’s home library. Four times throughout the school year, the students are guided by their teacher to create a drawing (e.g., What I want to be when I grow up). The drawing is sent to their volunteer who, in turn, sends a book relevant to that drawing along with a note to the student.
  • Dramatic Storytelling - Through this program Wendy Barnet, in full costume and with props, conducts dramatic storytelling sessions for Kindergarten students based on books she selects with the teacher. The five books and supporting materials are gifted to all of the children to develop their home library. In the 2019-20 school year, a new component will be added to this program through which a volunteer extends the students’ experience through a linked art lesson.
  • TEE Starfish Thespians: Storybooks Alive! – To instill the love of reading, a troupe of volunteers uses minimal costumes and props to present Kindergarten students with entertaining and engaging live interpretative readings of children’s books turned into scripts.
  • Starfish Sensory Garden – Volunteers design, install, and maintain a special interactive garden for the entire school created to appeal to and stimulate the five senses, concentrating on a wide range of therapeutic, nurturing and calming sensory experiences. Students help to plant, make seasonal projects for the garden, and get in tune with their senses, which is important for higher learning and encourages exploration, learning, and improved concentration. In the 2019-20 school year, a new component will be added to this program through which a volunteer leads creative, high-interest science lessons based on the Sensory Garden.
  • Numerous individual programs and projects including music lessons, science lessons, funding for the initiative and specific Starfish programs, and learning materials donations. Also support for other school needs (i.e., field trip chaperones, special learning program volunteers).
  • Initiative Replication – Steering Committee members assist other organization with replicating the TEE Starfish Initiative model in other schools.

2022-2023 TEE Starfish Initiative Steering Committee:

Dr. Tanice Knopp, Chair; Members: Helene Davis, Kathy Docks, Lynn Friedman, Dr. Jill Halman, Harriette Krasnoff, Rita Mazer, Susan Meisel, and Meryl Taback

To participate or for additional information email us here.



Sat, April 1 2023 10 Nisan 5783