Building lifetime skills in spring break program

Published 8:59 pm Wednesday, March 15, 2023

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School is out for the week, but a new program designed specifically for children on spring break opened Wednesday and runs through Friday.

“This week we have a really wonderful collaborative effort that we’ve put together called School’s Out,’” said John Double, executive director of Albert Lea Community Education.

The program is a collaboration between the school district and the city. This time around, the YMCA also partnered.

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“We have students that are going to be swimming, skating, rock-climbing and doing other activities [in] their time away from school,” he said.

Double said the idea originated with Scott Hanna, experiential coordinator for Community Education, who knew parents needed to keep their kids occupied over the break and thought this would be a unique opportunity to present something local.

“The fact that through Project Exploration these things cost our students nothing and parents just need to bring them in and pick them up at the end of the day, it’s also a wonderful opportunity for our kids who have maybe never gone swimming, never been skating,” he said. “Here’s an opportunity to do some of those unique events, can build some lifetime skills.”  

He also wanted the program to provide opportunities for students to keep active and learning, but he also wanted to build a collaboration that would outlive the Project Exploration grant.

“When that goes away, we still can provide those opportunities for our students,” he said. “Finding those collaborative partners is really a great thing when we can do it.”

Project Exploration funds were part of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, available during the pandemic.

“It was an opportunity that presented itself,” Double said. “I know over breaks different school’s out activities have happened with different groups. I know the city has worked to organize different things in the past, I know the Y has had school’s out activities in the past. 

“However, to see a collaborative effort of all three of the organizations coming together is really nice.”

Rock climbing was at the Brookside Education Center, while the city arena held ice skating and the YMCA hosted swimming. 

Whitney Sauer, youth and community program director for the Albert Lea YMCA, was at the pool.

“Spring break, we’re so excited to be able to collaborate with Parks & Rec and Community Ed to get the kids active and having fun,” she said. “I think it’s a great program and we look forward to more collaboration in the future.”

Second-grader Sawyer Olson was excited to go ice skating.

“I’m a hockey player,” he said.

Fellow second-grader Raelynne Morreim was excited to see her friends. She was also excited when she learned she would participate in the program.

“But then when we came [to the YMCA], my back was stiff,” she said. “I was so nervous.”

Alex Hagen, senior lead staff at the Albert Lea Rock Gym and Boathouse, said there was excitement about the program’s expansion.

“Seems like a lot of excitement,” he said. “A lot of the kids that we have are returners. They’re in the know about our programming.”

And he thought having so many returning students reflected on the quality of programming.

Micah Schuster, a fifth-grader, was at the rock gym Wednesday afternoon. Schuster had participated in similar programming before.

“I like that we could do certain things, and these are things that I like to do,” he said.

Schuster went ice skating earlier Wednesday, and planned to go swimming, an activity he was looking forward to and did in his free time.

“I have a Y membership,” he said.

A similar program was presented to students over winter break, but because the YMCA was not part of the collaboration at that time, students did not have the opportunity to swim.

Each day the program was open to 120 students.

“I’m just really excited about the possibilities of what these activities will bring for our students, and really proud of the staff members from all three organizations that are working together to make these [programs] a reality,” Double said.