When Dorit Niven first started teaching at Kinneret Day School in 1967, the president was Johnson, not Trump, and the school itself was found not on Netherland Avenue, but on the Grand Concourse.
A half-century later, though, one thing remains the same: Niven still teaches kindergarten, and she has no plans to stop now.
It’s been quite the journey from her days just after graduating from Hunter College and not finding openings for a high school teacher in Hebrew. Her father saw a newspaper ad for a Jewish day school looking for kindergarten teachers, and Niven applied.
“I fell in love with the school, and I fell in love with the kids,” Niven, 72, said. “I’ve been (here) ever since.”
On a recent day, Niven was teaching her small class the five senses.
“What are you showing here?” Niven asked Yuval Davis. “What senses?”
“Smelling, touching and hearing,” the 6-year-old replied.
“You’ve got a lot of these senses, and you are seeing also, right?” Niven asked her, before both of them read all the senses out loud, including sight and taste.
“This school has been the home away from home,” Niven said later. “In 50 years, you go through the ups and downs, and being here was one of the anchors that helped me.”
Those years included her first marriage, time as a single mother, remarriage, and death of her parents. Niven estimates she taught at least 1,250 students.
Niven has a knack for turning an everyday conversation into a learning opportunity, like when her class conducted a science experiment with snow, water and ice.
They collected a small jar filled with snow, leaving it in a hot place where the snow melted. When they placed the container in the freezer, the water froze. The cracked container proved something else to the kindergartners — water expands when frozen.
Niven didn’t stop there, however. She used the experiment to explain how potholes are made.
“The ground expanded by the ice,” Davis said. “The snow went in and the snow froze, and then the snow expanded.”
Niven isn’t the only person who has spent decades at the school. Its principal, Asher Abramovitz, has been at Kinneret working with Niven since 1972.
“She is an old-time kindergarten teacher with a technology head on her shoulders,” Abramovitz said. Niven mixes an old-fashioned work ethic with classroom tools of the 21st century, like smartboards and laptops.
Her years of teaching at Kinneret and her dedication to the kindergarten class is a testament to who Niven is, Abramovitz said, as well as how much she’s appreciated, and why parents want their children in Niven’s class. There is a waiting list for kindergarten, and the school receives frequent requests to expand enrollment beyond its 25-student maximum.
“She listens to the children and treats them like an equal,” Abramovitz said. “She’s very respectful of their feelings, their emotions.”
In the years Niven has taught children, she’s noticed one major difference between then and now.
“When I used to ask children, ‘How do you find out things you don’t know about?’ they used to say from our teachers, from our parents, from books, going to the library,” she said. “Now, it’s Google it.”
Niven has taught all seven of Michal Benyamin’s children. The eldest is now a senior in high school and her youngest, Oz, is currently in Niven’s class.
“My older kids, they still have the notebook from kindergarten,” Benyamin said. When Oz shows his older siblings his work, they take out theirs, showing him what they did at his age.
“It’s very touching to see, like it’s a nice connection between them,” Benyamin said. “They all share this excitement.”
Niven will continue to give more students and families similar memories — she has no plans to retire.
“I’m very happy doing what I’ve been doing for 50 years,” Niven said. “As long as the body and the mind are functioning, I’m going to keep on doing what I do, because I love what I do.”