Getting to Know: Jenna Kalkman-Turner

July 23, 2013

By Deb Carneol, Social Media & Birthday Party Coordinator

Even though it’s summer and JCC camps are in full swing, we are beginning to prepare for the upcoming school year by getting our programs together, our classrooms ready, and by welcoming and introducing the new faces our families will be seeing throughout the JCC. 

We are pleased to introduce Jenna Kalkman-Turner, the JCC’s new Gan Ami Early Education Whitefish Bay Site Director.  I sat down with Jenna to learn more about her background, experiences, and excitement in joining the JCC Gan Ami leadership team.

Deb Carneol: How long have you been a part of Early Childhood Education and tell us a little bit more about your journey up to this point.

Jenna Kalkman-Turner: I graduated from the University of Iowa in 1996 with an Early Childhood / Elementary Education background, and went right into the field at the Campus’ Early Childhood Program.  I got married, and a few years into my marriage decided I should move back home to the Chicago-land area to be closer to my family.  When I moved home I started to work at the Moriah Early Childhood Center, where I worked for 16 school years before I took my position here at Gan Ami. I wasn’t 100% sure I was not going to end up in the public school systems, but as soon as I moved back, the “Jewish Early Childhood Education Bug” bit me and I never turned back.  I now see myself as a Jewish Educator so working here at Gan Ami the right fit for me.

DC: You mentioned that that “Jewish Early Childhood Education Bug bit you”, so did you grow up going to camps? Did you grow up very involved in your Jewish community which made you know this was the direction you wanted to pursue?

JKT: As a preschooler, I was member of the first class in the Board of Jewish Education (BJE) in Chicago, and grew up going through that Early Childhood Education program.  My 3 siblings also went through that program, and my mother started to work for the BJE and is still working for them today.  So being a part of the world of Jewish Early Childhood Education has been a part my makeup, part of my family, part of who I am forever.  So actually when I moved back to Chicago, my first instinct was to go and if there was anything for me at the BJE, and it was actually the BJE’s director’s connection with Moriah that I found out about the job opening at Moriah.

DC: We know why you chose the “Jewish” Early Childhood Education route, but why did you choose Early Childhood Education in general over something like K-12?

JKT: Education is a huge part of my family dynamic; my grandmother was a teacher in a one-room school house, and I remember hearing about her being a part of that system.  Once schools developed into grade levels, my grandmother became a middle school teacher, and so talking with her I knew that was not for me.  But, the little ones definitely appealed, and the high school that I went to - Stevenson High School - had an Early Childhood Program.  As a high school student I was able to take the child development course work, work in the center during the school day, and I ended up becoming a lead teacher in one of the classrooms. Being able to work with this age group at such a young age is how I really knew this was the path I wanted to take.

DC: So you have been a part of the Early Childhood Education world for over 17 years, what is your favorite thing about working with this age group?

JKT: That is such a good question and I actually have two favorite parts. The first is definitely the relationships that I form with the families, with the children and with my colleagues. The other favorite aspect is the moment of observing a child who is having one of those experiences of wonder, an “ah-ha moment” where you see something click for them, or the mastery of a new skill.  To me there is just nothing better.

DC: You are about to start here in Gan Ami, so what are you looking forward to most working here in this community?

JKT: I came out of a synagogue based program for the last 16 years, which was an amazing opportunity and I knew I was impacting families for three to five years. But, in the very short amount of time that I have gotten to know the Gan Ami community, and the larger JCC community, I know that I will have the opportunity to be a part of a family’s life from birth through adulthood.  There seems to be this great sense of community and the understanding that this isn’t just one chapter of their lives, but that their whole book can be written here at the JCC. That is really exciting for me and that you don’t just say goodbye after the three to five years.  This also isn’t my first connection to the Milwaukee JCC either.  My husband was a camper at Camp Interlaken for years and then was a counselor, and my daughter just went up to Camp Interlaken for her third summer- so becoming a part of the Gan Ami family is B’shert (meant to be).

DC: That is B’shert.  I am sure your daughter is having a blast up at camp.  Tell us a little bit more about your family.

JKT: I live with my husband Dave and my two children, Joslyn, who is turning 13 and entering 8th grade, my step-son Josh who is nine and entering 4th grade, and our two dogs, Oscar and Shmoopy.

DC: When you are not at work, what can we find you doing?

JKL: My daughter told me “you can find her being a committed mom,” but in all seriousness she is right.  You can usually find me at an ice rink because my daughter is a national competitive skater, or at my step-son’s baseball games. So between the two of them, there isn’t much time, but those are the places that I want to be.

DC: So you are about to start working for Gan Ami, which is a Jewish Early Childhood Education program, so the fitting question for you is, what is your favorite Jewish holiday and why?

JKT: Well, my first instinct is to say Shabbat, because I like that it is every week, and that is helps to signify the end of the week, and that you can take time to reflect.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized my favorite holiday is actually Passover. I love to tell the story and sing the songs, and I love sitting around the table with all of the generations.

DC: Is there anything else you would want our JCC and Gan Ami Families to know about you?

JKT: First of all, I am excited to meet everyone in this community.  Feel free to come and seek me out at Gan Ami, because I want to meet you!  I also want to tell everyone that I am a bit of a dreamer, and if I dream it - I try to make it a reality.  So never hesitate to come and dream with me - parents, faculty and children - I want to help make your dreams a reality.

Contact Jenna Kalkman-Turner at 414-967-8201 or