By Andrew Cluley
From birth to well into retirement Ann Arbor Public Schools Community Education and Recreation program connects with people in the community. The continued success of the program illustrates the value of the aspirational question posed by the Ann Arbor Recreation Committee way back in 1939, “What type of community do we want Ann Arbor to be, and what contributions may we expect a recreation program to make to the community and its citizens?”
The answer in 2014-15 was for Rec and Ed to provide early childhood, K-12, and adult programs, with over 38,000 registrations during the year. The largest known Rec and Ed program run by a school district in Michigan shared their annual report with the Board of Education this week. It highlighted the many successes of the self-funded department that offers a first connection to AAPS for many families, and the only connection to the district for some people in the city without school-aged children or grandchildren.
My first experience with the Ann Arbor Public schools really was Safety Town, and it was just amazing, my son loved it,” says School Board Vice-President Christine Stead. “It was really special and we then had to be careful about actually stopping at red lights.”
From pickleball to ballroom dancing to getting genealogy tips, Rec and Ed offers a wide variety of programs to help make this community connection. Executive Director Community Services and School Wellness Jenna Bacolor says the department’s mission is to promote well-being, build community, and meet community needs.
School Board member Simone Lightfoot praised Rec and Ed officials for the diversity of their programs. She noted it’s easy to get spoiled in a town like Ann Arbor, but Rec and Ed keeps finding exciting programs many people wouldn’t think about until they see it listed. “I want to keep encouraging you all to create the plethora of programs that you offer, there’s nothing more exciting, even in our house, to get the actual magazine and thumb through it and see what’s available.”
There are several ways Rec and Ed finds new programs. “We’re constantly surveying, asking questions, talking to people, we’re really trying to meet people’s needs,” says Bacolor. She adds they also follow national trends to find topics of interest, but some programs come specifically from the community. “We frequently have people call and ask us, ‘Hey why don’t you do this kind of class or that kind of class?’ and we’re very happy to get those kinds of calls or emails,” Bacolor says. “We also frequently get people asking, ‘how can I teach a class?’ And that’s the true community education model, is that you learn from your neighbors.”
Community interest in Rec and Ed programs continues to grow, particularly for K-12 enrichment classes and camps, tennis, and most adult team sports. That doesn’t mean the department is resting on its laurels. Bacolor says to address sustainability issues the department has been realigned to focus on target audiences and growth areas, and continues with fundraising efforts, like Rick’s Run for Kids. She hopes these measures will continue to have Rec and Ed meeting the aspirations the Ann Arbor Recreation Committee stated in 1939 for investing in recreation for young people and adults, “Over a period of years will pay good dividends in the building of character and physical fitness of our future citizens.”