AAPS alum spends the day walking to all 32 schools in the district

Tom Jensen’s 16-hour walk began at 4 a.m. and covered 40.4 miles. Though the last four hours were in the rain, he’d do it all over again. “It was a good exercise for reflecting on how lucky I was to grow up in this community,” he says.

Wednesday was the 1,000th consecutive day that Tom Jensen walked at least 10 miles.

So what better way to celebrate the milestone than to walk to each of the 32 schools in the Ann Arbor Public Schools district?

That’s what the Burns Park/Tappan/Pioneer alum figured, anyhow, while visiting his parents, Steve and Peggy Jensen, who still live in the Burns Park home in which he grew up.

Outside Mitchell Elementary
The rain held off—until the last four hours of the trek. It was raining when he visited Bryant, Scarlett, Mitchell, Carpenter, Pittsfield, Allen, Pattengill, and Tappan.

This spring, Jensen—who now lives in Chapel Hill, N.C. where he runs the Democratic polling firm Public Policy Polling—had an article he wrote published in the New York Times about a “crazy walk” he took one day last fall in New York City in which he walked 113,000 steps.

Debbie Puente, his seventh grade social studies teacher at Tappan, read his essay and texted him, asking when he was going to repeat a similar adventure.

That’s when he realized that he was going to be in Ann Arbor on the 1000th day.

Jensen started his walk at his former elementary school, Burns Park, at 4 a.m.
Jensen started the walk at 4 a.m. at his childhood school, Burns Park.

“And the best way I could think of to see all of Ann Arbor in one big, long, crazy walk was just to walk school-to-school for all 32 schools,” said the 2002 Pioneer graduate, speaking via telephone after leaving Slauson Middle School en route to Ann Arbor Open.

The walk started at 4 a.m. at Burns Park Elementary. He says he doesn’t wear anything special—just the same clothes he’d wear on any other recreation day, his comfortable Under Armour tennis shoes, and an umbrella in his backpack.

Eight hours in, he had logged 47,000 steps without stopping. By the end of the journey at 8 p.m., he’d taken 94,245 steps—or 40.4 miles.

By the end of the 16-hour walk, the stats said it all.

Considering he’s walked the equivalent of one and a half times around the globe in the last 1,000 days, that’s nothing.

“I actually didn’t pack any food or drink but just dropped into the Plum Market on Maple on the way from Abbot to Lakewood and got a sandwich and a bottle of water that I consumed while keeping moving,” he said at 12:25, noting that’s it’s been a fairly mild morning so he hadn’t really gotten thirsty until then.

His long daily walks began during the pandemic when he figured that anything he could do while on the move he should do while on the move.

“So I do much of my work on my phone while out walking over the course of the day and I’m always multi-tasking while doing my daily walking- usually reading or writing things on my phone,” he says. “Since I do all my walking while doing things I would be doing anyway, it’s sort of just like doing two things at once as opposed to feeling like a big time commitment.”

“I average walking 18 miles a day so walking a lot is pretty par for the course for me but if I end up over 40 today like I think I might that will only be the second time I’ve done that much!”

As he briefly visited each school, he discovered new things, such as gardens and natural areas and memorial benches.

“I’m just looking around and taking pictures and that sort of thing,” he says. “I’m not actually going into buildings, but I’ve seen some interesting things that I just never would have noticed over the years. I didn’t realize that there was such a nice nature set-up on the campus at Thurston just because that wasn’t a part of town that I had a lot to do with. That just sort of reminded me how blessed we are with a lot of things in AAPS that you don’t even realize as a student how crazy it is.”

Jensen says of the new Jones Community Garden at Community High: “I love the way Community honors its past as Jones Elementary while reflecting the uniqueness of Ann Arbor as certainly the only Rainbow Zebras in the country!”

“You know, I went to UNC for college and would tell people: `Yeah, you know, my high school had a planetarium and it had an Olympic-sized swimming pool and it had a prairie and it had woods.’ And so many of our schools in Ann Arbor have sorts of unusual amenities like that.”

He said it’s hard for any specific act by a principal to be legendary in a district with so many schools that have been around so long.

“But Ritsema Woods at Haisley Elementary School honors a true legend, Louise Ritsema, who was principal of the school for 25 years from the 50s to the 70s,” he says. “One day the city just started bulldozing trees at the school on a day when school was out and when she got word about what was going on she rushed to the school and single-handedly let those men know who was the boss and put an end to it. The woods she saved are still there and have her name on them.
“I really would have loved to have known the legendary Miss Ritsema but I’m glad she’s honored to this day!”

Jensen grew up watching his father walk to work, and he walked to school for his entire 13 years at AAPS, so the family culture was “walk first, drive second.”

His Wednesday walk was only one of the highlights of what has been “a really cool week.”

Twenty years after graduating from high school, he’s still good friends with those he met at AAPS.

“I’ve seen a ton of my former teachers who continue to mean so much to me,” he says, noting visits throughout Michigan and Ohio with former teachers, a librarian, and an office professional.

Jensen says that every day his job is very interdisciplinary and requires him to use the math skills he learned at Pioneer. In fact, he and his former Pioneer math teacher attended a baseball game together in Traverse City Monday night, and he told her that because of her instruction, he was able to test out of math in college.

“I’m not somebody who’s like, oh, math was irrelevant to my life. It’s a huge part of my daily life, but I got such good math instruction K-12, that that was enough. I didn’t take a single math course in college.”

“I just feel so grateful for the education I got in the school district. Other than my family, I don’t think I’ve been as blessed with anything in my entire life as the teachers I had in AAPS.”

Debbie Puente, in fact, met him at Eberwhite and walked with him to Dicken. When she speaks of teaching him at Tappan, and how bright and helpful he was, it’s obvious he was one of her favorites.

I had a perfectly good experience in college, but when I think about what the most meaningful experiences were in my life, it was definitely the kids I went to school with at AAPS and the teachers I had, and everybody … I grew up with such a sense that all these adults cared about me. I would like to believe that I’m a well-adjusted adult human being and I think that the love and care I got at school all day every day, in addition to my parents, just went a really long way.”

Tom Jensen

At the end of the 16-hour walk, Jensen was glad he’d packed his umbrella. And he had no regrets.

“I’m glad I did it!” he says. “It was a good exercise for reflecting on how lucky I was to grow up in this community—the great neighborhoods we have all over town and the educators who taught and nurtured me so well. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend my childhood anywhere else in the world!”

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