Thursday, December 19, 2013

How a legendary wizard is assisting Rec&Ed’s budget journey

Guest blogger Sally Sears, Lifelong Learning Coordinator
Sally Searls

Imagine my surprise when Gandalf the Grey, the famous wizard from The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings walked into our staff meeting on Tuesday! Soon I noticed that he was on the shorter side, the beard looked a little fake and – wait a second – his robe looked suspiciously like a bathrobe. As soon as “he” started talking I realized it was our Executive Director, Jenna Bacolor.

"Today we will measure progress on our Unexpected Budget Journey,” Gandalf said. Last June, Rec&Ed staff embarked on a Hobbit-like quest for gold. For Rec&Ed, this meant ensuring our financial viability so we can keep serving the community with high quality, affordable recreational and enrichment programs, including scholarships for those in need.

Jenna                                Gandalf
To me, this means improving many of our budgeting procedures so that we can serve the community more effectively.

Using his staff as a pointer, Gandalf led us through a presentation describing the steps our department has completed and how far we have left to go. Since June we have traveled through a forest of budget numbers and a mountain of new purchasing procedures alongside a lake of “transparency” water. We are approaching the swamp of strategic planning and facing the learning curve of using new software. 

My part of this journey has involved joining our new Rec&Ed Budget Team and receiving training on new ways to track our expenditures. This team monitors the current data using "actuals" and envisions the future based on our mission and values as our guide. I am so glad that we are more deliberately connecting our mission and values with our decisions. I believe that Rec&Ed is moving in the right direction for reaching our "gold." 

As I was wondering whether I really wanted to be on this journey (just like Bilbo Baggins!)
Gandalf reminded us that we have weathered changes before. We know from community surveys, as well as our own participant surveys, that the Ann Arbor community wants us to continue providing enrichment and recreational opportunities at an affordable price.

For you, as a Rec&Ed participant, these behind-the-scenes budget improvements will result in our keeping class, camp and other program prices as low as possible. It also means continuing and possibly expanding our scholarship opportunities. 

At the end of the presentation, Gandalf reminded us that organizational changes take: 

“Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure.”  
                                           -- J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

I think we at Rec&Ed are up for it!

Sally Searls' career with Ann Arbor Public Schools began in 1984 when she worked for Dr. Potts in the Equity Office at Balas. For eight years, she served as Community Education Coordinator at Scarlett Middle School for Scarlett and its feeder elementary schools. In 1992 she became Rec&Ed’s Lifelong Learning Coordinator, overseeing all of Rec&Ed's youth and adult enrichment classes and summer camps. She particularly loves visiting classes and camps to see children enjoying our programs and making friends.  

Monday, December 16, 2013

$10 off any winter class for new and existing A2RecDirect email subscribers!

Update: Friday, Dec. 20 -- all discounts have been taken. Welcome, new A2RecDirect email subscribers!

To say a big thank you to our existing email subscribers and encourage new subscribers, we're offering a special discount on Rec&Ed's winter classes. This discount is available only to email subscribers of this blog.

From December 16, 2013 - January 16, 2014 receive $10.00 off one class in our Winter Catalog. Yes, ANY class! The class can be for you OR your child. 

This winter season, Rec&Ed is offering over 500 useful and fun classes, including 40+ new classes. From fitness and yoga to learning how to use your new iPad/camera/software to cooking delicious entrees and beyond, we have a class that will start your new year off right!

Hurry - this offer is limited to 20 new and current subscribers -- all have been claimed!

Click here to view the Rec&Ed Winter catalog and register on-line. A print copy of the catalog will be mailed to school district residents and placed in community locations in late December.

Here's how to get your discount: 

1. If you're not a subscriber yet, signing up is easy:
  • Enter your email address by clicking here.
  • Look in your email in-box for a message from Feedburner Email Subscriptions. Check your Spam folder if you don't see it within a minute or two.
  • Click on the link in the email.
  • Within a day, you'll receive a "Welcome" email from me.
2. If you're an existing email subscriber: 
  • Simply email me (Jenna Bacolor) at 
  • Subject line: Subscriber discount. I have a list of all subscribers for verification purposes.
3. I'll email you a coupon code 
  • ONLY YOU can use this to register yourself or your child for a class. 
  • Each code is a unique, one-time use code for you to use. 
I'd love to hear from you about what class you pick and why. Send me an email or comment below.

Rec&Ed employees are not eligible for this discount.

Happy Winter Catalog shopping!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

New twists on familiar games help Rec&Ed - and you - promote active fun

"Mingle, mingle!" announced Erica Pittman, Rec&Ed School Age Child Care Supervisor at Wines Elementary. The twelve or so kids, grades K - 5, froze in their positions and looked at Erica. 

"Okay. Two...and...hopping!" 

The children quickly formed pairs and hopped in around in a large circle, laughing and shrieking. Upbeat music played in the background. A few minutes later, Erica once again turned down the music and said, "Mingle, mingle!" This time, she instructed the kids to form groups of three and skip.  
Children in Rec&Ed's after school child care
play a more active version of Follow the Leader.
These children, as well as those enrolled in the Rec&Ed after school child care at Abbot, are trying new physical activity games from the best-practice CATCH (Coordinated Action Toward Child Health) curriculum. Rec&Ed child care supervisors use lesson plans from the CATCH After School Club curriculum to lead about 30 minutes of these games. Each game emphasizes different types of fitness and all are designed for having fun while connecting with peers. 

The "Mingle Mingle" game is a new spin on familiar gross motor activities like running, skipping, dancing and hopping. This is an easy game to play with a group of kids in a basement or outside. We've found it works well with K-5 kids. See game directions here.

Do you remember playing "Follow the Leader" when you were a kid? 

In our Rec&Ed child care version, children take turns deciding on a type of physical activity and leading their peers in a long line, all of whom are copying their movements. 

Last week at Rec&Ed's after school child care at Abbot Elementary, the leader (an elementary student wearing red in the photo above) started out skipping with swinging arms, then moved to a gliding, ice-skating movement. Her peers followed her in a snake line as she led them around the multi-purpose room. Every child had an opportunity to lead the group, coming up with all sorts of interesting ways to flap their arms, run, walk and skip.

Next time you're looking for a fun birthday party game or need to entertain a group of kids for whatever reason, try these updated versions of familiar activities! Play kid-friendly music and join in yourself.

Rec&Ed is fortunate to have funding from the Michigan Dept of Community Health for the six-week "Fuel Up for Fun" program. Fuel Up for Fun provides staff training in the national best-practice CATCH After School Club to encourage healthy lifestyle habits for a lifetime. See previous posts for other new Rec&Ed programs funded by the MDCH.

Don't miss the latest Rec&Ed news and discounts! Subscribe to A2RecDirect by Email  

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

MLive lists A2RecDirect in "Best of Ann Arbor Bloggers" article

Great news for my little ole blog! MLive featured A2RecDirect in a "Best of Ann Arbor Bloggers" article over the weekend. Sure, you have to scroll past several food and political blogs, but I'm so glad that A2RecDirect has been noticed. See article here.

Of course, I (and my fellow bloggers here at Rec&Ed) won't be resting on our laurels. Coming soon: a special discount for A2RecDirect subscribers, a tell-all post from Rec&Ed's first ever Master of Social Work intern, and more.

And please, please share this blog with your friends.

News, behind-the-scenes stuff, discounts and more: Subscribe to A2RecDirect by Email

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Go, Slow, Whoa! How Rec & Ed is encouraging healthy eating among elementary kids

"Heathy eating for kids in Ann Arbor" may not be the first thing people think of when they hear the words "Rec&Ed." But Promoting Well-Being is one of our organizational values, and we believe encouraging healthy eating among AAPS students is an important way to accomplish this. Thanks to a Michigan Dept of Community Health grant that we received last year, we've increased our staff's capacity to teach nutrition education to youth in our programs. This fall we received $60,000 in renewal funding to continue this important work.

After reviewing several best-practice nutrition education curricula, we chose the CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) After School Club. CATCH uses the child-friendly "Go, Slow, Whoa" model developed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institutes. The curriculum includes engaging nutrition education discussion and activities to teach children about good choices for healthy eating.

Clearly, this second grade Obstacle Dash participant
understood the Go, Slow, Whoa concept really well!
This fall, along with our partner One on One Sports Training, we incorporated CATCH into our Obstacle Dash after school program. Our 2nd-8th grade participants received 20 minutes of CATCH nutrition education and a healthy snack, followed by 50 minutes of physical activity using a variety of obstacles.

At the end of the program, we asked our participants to finish this sentence in whatever format they chose (writing, drawing, or both): "What Obstacle Dash taught me about being healthy..."

"I learned how to army crawl. 
I learned how do to teamwork."
Both of these photos of student artwork show how the Obstacle Dash program inspired Ann Arbor kids to be healthier! We have about 80 more interesting and sometimes adorable pictures like these in our office. We're going to post some of them around our office and display them in other ways, so ask to see them next time you're here at 1515 S. Seventh.

We've also received many parent testimonials such as the following:
"The healthy eating portion made a big impression on my son! More than when I discuss nutrition with him. He came home telling me he only wanted to eat "Go" foods. :)"
--parent of elementary Obstacle Dash participant
The culminating Obstacle Dash event (free to those who were in the after school program) was also a big hit. See related blog post: 100+ Kids Defeat Giant Obstacle Course.

We'll be offering an Obstacle Dash camp or special event during one of the AAPS school breaks and another 8-week after school program this spring. Want to get on the list to hear about early bird discounts and scholarships for registration? Contact Sheri Judkins via email or at 994-2300, ext. 53233.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Karma Yoga blends fitness with giving

When I started as Rec&Ed executive director last year, I spent several weeks visiting and trying many of our camps and classes. One day, fitness supervisor and yoga instructor Victoria Cendrowski invited me to "Karma Yoga," the monthly 90 minute Power Yoga Pilates class she offers to the community. She and her daughter Chelsea, both experienced yoga instructors, volunteer their time to offer the class in addition to the many classes they teach through Rec&Ed. Karma Yoga is free, with the "fee" being a suggested $10 donation to a local or global charity.

Longtime Rec&Ed yoga instructor Victoria Cendrowski
offers Karma Yoga once/month.  
"How hard could it be?" I thought to myself, distantly remembering the one yoga class I had taken years ago through Rec&Ed. My daughter Madeline, then an 8th grader at Slauson, was eager to try too. So I dusted off my old yoga mat and we arrived at the Eberbach Cultural Arts Building that Sunday morning. As soon as we started, I realized two things: 1) Victoria and Chelsea are talented and serious yoga instructors and 2) I probably should have done a couple of downward dogs before coming!

Madeline quickly got into the flow, so to speak, and easily posed, balanced, and stretched her way to a energized state. I was often a half beat behind, but enjoyed the community feel of the class (everyone was friendly and looked vaguely familiar, as is often the case for those of us who've lived here a long time).

I left feeling amazing. It was a fun, relaxed, and somewhat challenging yoga experience, plus I had contributed to a great cause -- in this case, the Rec&Ed Scholarship Program.

"Chelsea and I have been doing Karma Yoga for close to four years and have raised more than $10,000," Victoria told me recently. "Chelsea came up with the idea. We both wanted to do volunteer work together and it is just heart warming for everyone involved." 100% of the donations have gone to local charities such as Food Gatherers, Safe House Center, Habitat for Humanity of Huron Valley as well as global charities like Doctors without Borders.

Join this month's Karma Yoga on Sunday, November 24, 9:00 - 10:30 a.m. at the Eberbach Cultural Arts Building's Dance Studio. The charity this month is Acumen, a non-profit that "raises charitable donations to invest in companies, leaders and ideas that are changing the way the world tackles poverty." To RSVP for this Sunday's Karma Yoga or be added to the email list, contact Victoria.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

100+ kids defeat giant Obstacle Dash course

"What was your favorite obstacle?" I asked at least ten children Saturday morning. Most of them had to take a minute or two to pick one, then tell me, "the hay pyramid" or "the big spider web." These energetic kids were at the Saline Fairgrounds for the first ever Obstacle Dash community event, a series of kid-friendly obstacles spread over a course about 3/4 of a mile long.

For the roughly 140 Ann Arbor elementary and middle school kids who took part in the Rec&Ed Obstacle Dash after school class, the event was a chance to test their skills on bigger obstacles. The event was also open to any 2nd - 8th grade students who wanted to try the course.

Carry the weight across the planks and paving stones...
without touching the grass.

Kids crawled, ducked, jumped and even rolled
through a long "spider web" obstacle.
The Obstacle Dash program's themes of team work, sportsmanship, self-confidence, dedication, courage, leadership and perseverance were apparent at each obstacle throughout the course. Coaches from One on One Sports Training took groups of kids through the course, talking about these themes and encouraging the participants to cheer for each other.

Rec&Ed co-created the Obstacle Dash program last spring with One on One Sports Training. Grant funding from the Michigan Dept of Community Health supported Rec&Ed in offering the program at four pilot elementary schools. The program was so popular with kids and parents that we expanded the program district-wide this fall.

Each group celebrated at the end of the course while
their parents snapped pictures. Many kids ran the course more than once.

Along with One on One, we'll be offering an Obstacle Dash Day during the February school break and a full Obstacle Dash after school program next spring. Interested in learning more? Contact Sheri Judkins by email or at 994-2300 ext. 53233.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

More toddlers can "Jump Into Speech" thanks to grant

More of our community's youngest children and their parents will build language skills thanks to an Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation Great Idea grant to Rec&Ed's First Steps program. While First Steps offers many types of classes that support optimal early childhood development for families of 0-5 year olds, "Jump Into Speech" is new. The 7-week class is designed for toddlers ages 15-24 months and their parents to take together. Using hands-on activities, parents learn strategies for supporting early language development. At the same time, toddlers increase their ability to communicate.

Changes to simple interactions help with language development
"We wanted to offer Jump Into Speech as part of our First Steps programming because it offers new ideas and ways to practice interacting with their children that really work," said Marj Hyde, Coordinator of First Steps. "When parents see strategies from the class working -- their child is imitating words and then spontaneously using them -- it's empowering to both the child and the parent."

Parents in the pilot class agree. One parent told us that, "I was surprised at how subtle, simple changes in your everyday interactions with your toddler can make a BIG impact on their speech...I know [my son] is really benefiting because his older brother recently mentioned, 'Wow! He's really talking a lot more!'"

The Ann Arbor Public Schools Educational Foundation funding will pay for critical non-salary aspects of running Jump Into Speech, such as equipment and supplies that are specific to the class. These items will contribute to the sustainability of the class since they can be used over time in more classes.

This grant is just one example of how Rec&Ed's First Steps division is addressing the loss of about $50,000 in annual state funding. Over the past few months, First Steps staff, a dedicated group of First Steps parents and I have worked to identify a variety of strategies to help fill the gap. Look for a future blog about these ideas and how you can help.

For more information, visit the First Steps-Ann Arbor website or email Marj Hyde.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Rec&Ed remembers Rick Dekeon

"Dedicated." "Loved coaching." "Loved teaching." "Made a difference in the lives of thousands of kids." These are just some of the words that staff here at Rec&Ed are using to describe Rick Dekeon, long-time PE teacher at Northside Elementary and coach, participant, official, instructor, and Recreation Advisory Commission member for Rec&Ed. All of us at Rec&Ed were deeply saddened by news of Rick Dekeon's death on Saturday.

Rick's frequent smile
Team Sports Coordinator Larry Dishman knew Rick for decades. He shares this remembrance today:

"Rick Dekeon was a passionate educator, coach, clinician and human being. He touched the lives of many of us and countless numbers of young people in the community. My nephews, Ben, Nick and Graham, all considered him their favorite teacher when they attended Northside Elementary School. Rick and I would oftentimes pass messages back and forth to each other through the boys. 
Rick had been involved with the Ann Arbor Recreation Department and Rec&Ed programs since the mid 1970's. The first time I met Rick he was playing softball with the Capital Market ball team back in 1976. He was a softball team participant, a coach of many Rec&Ed youth sports teams, a high school coach, a Rec&Ed clinician for our soccer program, a member of the Recreations Advisory Commission, a popular and talented teacher at Northside Elementary School and the list goes on and on.  
Whenever Rick would volunteer to coach one of our youth sports teams, moms and dads would rush to sign their kids up for it. He was one of the most popular coaches we ever had the pleasure to work with. 
I remember many post-RAC-meeting discussions in the Rec&Ed parking lot with Rick.  We usually talked about program ideas, AAPS matters, sports and other topics we had in common. One of the topics we would sometimes discuss was having had our numbers called to go into the ring against the "Big C." Most of those discussions were personal, and I choose to keep them private, but I will share with you the one thing both Rick and I agreed on and that was not to let cancer get in the way of living our lives to the fullest. And Rick exemplified that. 
All of us at Rec&Ed and on the Recreation Advisory Commission will remember Rick fondly for his dedication to children and recreation in our community.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Have a 0-5 year old? Come to First Steps Day at Barnes and Noble on Friday!

This Friday, November 8, we're celebrating First Steps-Ann Arbor Day at the Barnes and Noble on Washtenaw! Bring your 0-5 year old anytime between 11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. to enjoy fun activities and learn about the classes and support First Steps offers to families in our community. 

First Steps Ann Arbor
FS instructor and author Yvette Daniels
blows bubbles with preschoolers during a class
I'm so proud to announce that two of our First Steps staff --  Shanda Trent and Yvette Daniels -- are also local children's book authors and will read from their new books at the event. 
  • From 11:00 - 11:30 a.m., Shanda will share her new picture book Farmers' Market DayThe story features a feisty little girl finds who finds exactly the right item to take home during a trip to the farmers' market. The New York Times recently gave Shanda's book a very positive review
  • From 1:30 - 2:00 p.m., Yvette will read two of her books, Harry, Harry the Dancing Hippo and Ten Singing Cockatiels. Her books are set to music and filled with silly words and actions. Both authors will offer additional stories and songs during their half-hour readings.
The event also serves as a fundraiser for First Steps-Ann Arbor. A percentage of all purchases (food, books, games etc.) on Friday will support First Steps' efforts to support families of young children in our community! Customers need to say “First Steps” when they're checking out for the program to get a percentage.

First Steps Day at Barnes & Noble
Friday, November 8, 2013
11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Barnes & Noble Bookstore 
3235 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor

Can't attend Friday?  Visit to support First Steps online from 11/8/13 through 11/15/13 by entering Bookfair ID: 11203502 at checkout.

For more information, email or call (734) 994-4949.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

3 ways a former Recreation Director changed Ann Arbor forever

Guest blogger Larry Dishman, Coordinator of Team Sports

My first encounter with Chuck Oxley, the legendary Ann Arbor Recreation Director of the 1960s and 70s, was the result of me getting run over by a disgruntled baseball player. In the summer of 1964, I was a rising senior at St. Thomas High School. It was my third summer umpiring adult baseball games for the Ann Arbor Recreation Department, a forerunner of Rec&Ed. Back then we would officiate games decked out in black suits over white button down shirts, with a matching tie and an umpire cap. Our pay: $3.00 for a 3-hour game.

One muggy summer night at Veterans Memorial Park, a row erupted over the accuracy of my strike zone. The third baseman from one of the teams thought he had a better view of the strike zone from the hot corner than I did from behind the plate. After I gave him three or four warnings for disparaging language, I ejected him from the game. The player became even more furious, charging over and knocking me down. The base umpire, who happened to be a college football player, jumped in right away and ushered the player off the field. 

When order was restored, I got up, brushed myself off and forfeited the game to the opposing team. The next day Chuck Oxley, who had been the Director of Recreation for about a year, phoned me at home. He introduced himself, asked how I was, and urged me to tell him what happened at the ballpark the night before. After hearing my story, he said he was not only going to suspend the ball player who charged me but was going to take legal action against him as well. And he did.

Over the next decade or so, I came to understand that this was just one example of how Chuck was a man of his word. He was also an innovator who was never afraid to try something that hadn't been done before. Last week would have been Chuck's 97th birthday. As I reflect on Chuck as a leader in this community, three of his accomplishments stand out as making a permanent difference in Ann Arbor:

1. Organizing the original University of Michigan Athletics Department Sports Clinic (along with Bo Schembechler, Johnny Orr, and Moby Benedict). This sports clinic was the precursor to the present day sports camps run by the University of Michigan.

2. Advocating for combined city/schools recreation programs. Chuck often stated that it's more efficient to use both city-owned and school-owned facilities for recreation programs rather than having each agency run their own programs in their own separate facilities. This model continues today, with Rec&Ed still offering a number of its programs (e.g., cultural arts, softball/baseball, soccer) in/on both city-owned and school-owned facilities.

3. Transforming a former racetrack into the Ann Arbor Senior Center. Armed with a vision for a dedicated place where seniors could enjoy recreational activities and his legendary enthusiasm, Chuck rallied volunteers to renovate the former racetrack building located at Burns Park. Over 40 years later the City of Ann Arbor still offers a wealth of programs and special events at the center.

Chuck served the Ann Arbor community as Director of the Ann Arbor Recreation Department from 1963 to 1978. He hired me as the first, and so far only, Coordinator of Team Sports back in 1976. By hiring staff such as myself, he hoped to mightily expand recreation fee-based program offerings for the people of Ann Arbor without additional general fund subsidies. Although it was one of his last recreation programming ideas, it was just another one his innovations that has worked to this day. To cap off his long career, Chuck was inducted in the Michigan Recreation and Parks Association Hall of Fame in 2007. 

Our many team sports programs live on today. Find out more at

Larry Dishman has worked for the AAPS Community Education & Recreation Department in many capacities since 1961. Known around town simply as “Dish,” over the years he has worked with countless coaches, players and district staff as an umpire, district coordinator of athletics, and Rec&Ed team sports coordinator. He also enjoys serving as the coordinator of Rec&Ed’s Hikone – Ann Arbor Middle School Exchange Program.

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Monday, October 28, 2013

Why summer fun lasts all year at Rec&Ed

October may bring to mind pumpkins and Halloween for many, but at Rec&Ed it means something else entirely: time to start planning our summer camps! The work of planning, marketing, running, and evaluating our summer camps is a year-round process. The staff below have a combined 100 years of experience offering a variety of high quality, affordable camps.
Rec&Ed Summer Camp staff
Your Rec&Ed Summer Coordinators of Organized Fun!!!
Clockwise from top left: Sheri, Lisa, Ivy, Angelita, Sally, Vickie and India
Our first step is always to review the data from our recent summer. We ask questions such as: what worked and didn't work? What did parents tell us in the evaluations? How did our budget numbers compare to previous years? What are the key areas we need to improve?

This is quite a task for 2013, given that we offered 168 camps with almost 4,000 registrations!

Over the next several weeks we'll select our 2014 summer camp line-up, plan improvements to our procedures and communication, and make our scholarship process easier. During this planning, our foremost goal is to provide fun, enriching and safe camp experiences for our young campers.

Did your child come to one or more of our camps? What's the most important thing you think we should work on? I'd love to hear your feedback and suggestions!

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Monday, October 21, 2013

UM students pull weeds with a smile at the Cultural Arts Building

Hooray for Alpha Phi Omega (APO)! Four members of this U of M service fraternity helped out Friday at the Eberbach Cultural Arts Building. The volunteers not only pulled hundreds of weeds, but they were so cheerful, it looked like fun!


The Eberbach Cultural Arts Building is a Burns Park neighborhood gem that draws youth and adults from all over town. Since 2009, Rec&Ed has leased the building from the City and provided all programming. The building's dance studio, ceramics studio, and two art rooms are used year-round for Rec&Ed's arts classes and camps.

Rec&Ed and City staff will be spending the next several months sprucing up both the inside and outside of the CAB. Contact Lisa Wigal for more information.

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