‘Always something new’

Published 10:06 pm Thursday, September 7, 2017

Community Ed director says he enjoys variety of his job

Playing professional football and obtaining a master’s degree are two honors that not many people have done. Albert Lea Community Education Director Chris Chalmers has lived those dreams and had a nearly 30-year career teaching lifelong lessons to local residents.

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A native of Red Wing, Chalmers attended St. John’s University, where he was an English major and played on the school’s football team. The day after he graduated from college, he flew to London, England, where he played one year for the Heathrow Jets football team.

“That was a great experience,” he said. “It was a way for me to travel overseas and to meet new people and get exposed to different cultures.”

Following his stint in England, Chalmers returned to the United States and earned a teaching job in Albert Lea in 1989. An English teacher for 13 years, Chalmers was an assistant principal for five years and has been the Community Education director for 10 years.

As director, Chalmers oversees early learning and adult basic education programs, as well as other enrichment activities for all 23,431 district residents.

“We’re helping them to be engaged in lifelong learning,” he said.

Albert Lea Community Education includes Brookside Boathouse, where climbing, canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, hamboarding, biking and other activities are available.

“This is part of our experiential programming that has grown from a rock gym to this, and now we provide experiences for thousands of people a year,” Chalmers said.

Community Education offers a program that allows employees of businesses and their families to use Brookside Boathouse and the rock wall gym at Brookside Education Center during open hours. The cost of the program is $50, which is paid by the employer. Chalmers said there are six employers that have offered to participate.

“It’s always something new, challenging, and we’re really set up to work with the community’s wants and needs,” he said. The Boathouse was built after feedback, and more trips have been added to the seasonal Community Education activities book.

The district’s early education programming is growing “leaps and bounds” said Chalmers, who noted adult basic education has increased 66 percent in the last five years.

Chalmers said he has noticed a change in the demographics of people who attend adult basic education courses.

“I’m able to work with just a wide variety of people of all ages and all socioeconomic backgrounds, so it’s a great experience,” he said.

He said his favorite part of the job is the variety of work he does, and he enjoys speaking to community groups and organizations and gathering ideas and bringing them to fruition.

Chalmers, who has a master’s degree in experiential/ education leadership, said the degree is a good fit for hands-on learning his job includes.

Chalmers and his wife, Jennifer, have three sons, Sam, a freshman at St. John’s University; Danny, a sophomore at Albert Lea High School; and Tim, a seventh-grader.

“Twenty-nine years ago, I had never been to Albert Lea,” he said. “But it’s just been a great place for a career, to raise a family and to really learn a lot about myself and what’s important in life. And I think the natural beauty of Albert Lea is amazing, and it fits for what we’re trying to do with our experiential, outdoor environment.

“Not many towns can you walk around the lake in the center of town and kayak and canoe right down here. So, it’s just a lot of things. My kids have been very fortunate to have wonderful experiences and friends, and so I think that’s something that we definitely cherish about Albert Lea.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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