Archived Story

Learning isn’t just for kids anymore

Published 2:35pm Monday, March 18, 2013

Community Education expands to offer more programs, rentals

When Albert Lean Chris Chalmers moved to town in 1989, he signed up for a Community Education class to get to know people.

He said he recognized at the time that Community Education was a way to feel engaged and connected with others.

No, Christopher Chalmers’ nickname is not “Community Ed.” However, he is steering the Albert Lea Community Education program to offer more usefulness to the general public. --Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune
No, Christopher Chalmers’ nickname is not “Community Ed.” However, he is steering the Albert Lea Community Education program to offer more usefulness to the general public. –Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

Now, more than 20 years later, Chalmers is the director of Albert Lea Community Education and seeks to engage others in a similar experience.

“We’re finding opportunities for people with similar interests to come together,” he said. “We’re building community.”

Chalmers said while the program was strong when he started in the position five years ago, it has grown in the last few years as he and his staff have aimed for higher collaboration to meet the needs of the community.

“We’ve tried to make it a one-stop shop for learning,” Chalmers said.

The program incorporates everything from early learning and adult basic education to general enrichment activities and other recreational activities. There are classes for myriad interests, ranging from cooking and photography to canoeing and yoga.

Even GED training and English learning skills classes are offered under the same umbrella.

In the winter session alone, there are more than 100 opportunities found in the Community Education booklet sent out to homes in the community.

Chalmers, who is also the activities director for Albert Lea High School, said Community Education took off during the AARP/Blue Zones Project in 2009, when healthy cooking, wellness workshops and more exercise options started to be offered through the outlet.

Participation further expanded with the construction of the Brookside Boathouse, which offers activities such as canoeing, kayaking and snowshoeing.

According to Community Education statistics, more than 1,600 people took part in an activity offered through the boathouse during the summer of 2012.

That number is 20 percent more than the year before, said Scott Hanna, environmental learning center coordinator, who also oversees the rock gym.

“I think between the Vitality Center and the water improvement we’ve seen through the watershed — along with Community Ed involvement — you’re seeing a perfect storm,” Hanna said. “Our environment is our best asset in Albert Lea.”

Chalmers said he and his own family continue to utilize Community Ed classes themselves, whether its sports camps for the kids or yoga for his wife.

He said a Community Ed Advisory Council seeks out what topics the community would like to learn about, and he encouraged people to call or email the Community Ed office if they wish to be a part of that process.

“We want to be here for all learners of all ages to help facilitate lifelong learning,” he said. “I can’t imagine a life without learning something. Whether it’s reading a book or seeing a play — it’s experiential learning.”

Albert Lea Community Education began in the early 1970s.

The Albert Lea Community Education office is at Albert Lea High School. It can be reached at 379-4898.