by HANNAH BROADBENT
Watertown Mayer’s Community Education offers around 50 programs for all ages, from infants to seniors, throughout the summer.
“We want to serve the entire community,” said the Kids Company and Program Coordinator Amy Dimmler. “We strive to meet the needs of everyone.”
According to Dimmler they have programs year-round but the activities really take off in the summer. Dimmler was unable to answer exactly how many bodies are enrolled in programs total but said there are about 6-20 people in each activity with the exception of basketball which is one of their largest summer activities and Kids and Company which is ran through Community Ed and has about 125 kids ages 33 months to 6th grade.
Dimmler said Kids and Club is focused on keeping the kids learning in the summer. She said they have afternoon clubs which are dedicated to child development and midday camps which are focused on STEM.
“We focus on the hands-on learning,” she said.
Rachel Bender is the director of Community Ed., and was not available for an interview, but Dimmler and Community Education Secretary Janine Knutson said all ideas for the activities come from her. They say each year she makes a very conscious effort to have all ranges of activities from “How to Make a Star Wars Movie” to T-Ball, to AARP classes and basketball camps for all ages.
Dimmler and Knutson also said that they get a lot of ideas from participant surveys at the end of each program and a community education advisory board. The board is made up of school staff, superintendent Ron Wilke, parents and city officials.
Knutson said Bender also partners with Carver County and Community Ed. Boards in other communities to always brainstorm and see what they are doing. Knutson said community education in the area support each other.
Knutson has been with the district for 12 years, she is also the “More than Pink” advisor and can answer almost any question about the department. She is the person people literally point at, to answer questions when Bender is unvailable. More than Pink is an organization for girls 3rd through 6th grade.
“This is the best job in the world, I truly believe with my whole heart that the people who work here are the best in the world,” she said.
Knutson said a big thing she has learned in the job is that the more you get to know people, the more you get to know what they need. She said that is integral to creating a successful community education program.
Knutson also said that none of this would be possible without community participation including parents, volunteers, class teachers and of course enrollees.
“We ask, ‘how do we keep community funding here?’” she said. “How do we keep youth enrichment and keep prices low.”
Knutson said when they have new classes they will run them for a few years and see what they response was. If the community didn’t respond like the department had hoped, they take it off the board, and maybe try again in a few years.
Kent Janikula is the youth basketball camp coach and in is coming into his first year as the head varsity coach.
“It teaches them to keep learning, it’s a balance of skills, fun and competition,” he said.
The camp has around 30 kids. Janikula said the kids work hard and as far as he can tell, they all want to be there. He said camps like these are good because they get kids off their phones.
“It keeps the kids active, we have a lot of programs here that get the kids up,” he said “Especially when we bring the high school kids in it’s good for them to see that.”
Knutson agreed. She said their goal is to find different types of hands-on learning and to keep them engaged in their summer.
“They’re using their brain a whole different way, and they’re learning to socialize,” she said.
Knutson said the department will take volunteers any day of the week, especially to teach classes. She said if a community members knows how to speak spanish, they can teach it here. Knutson said there are tons of talented people in the community and they need to know that.
“You can’t have a bad day when you’re here, and this is what’s going on,” she said.