"I've had such a fun week so far," gushes Jenna Bacolor. She's in her third day of her new job as director of the Ann Arbor Public Schools' Community Education and Recreation Department, and she's hit the ground running. It's a post that's key to what makes the area's schools great — Rec and Ed oversees a myriad of programs in and out of the classroom, from child care to summer camps to sports. And it's squarely in Bacolor's comfort zone, as a parent and a professional.
An eye on health
Bacolor has lived and worked in Washtenaw County for over twenty years, earning her Master of Public Health and Master of Social Work degrees at the University of Michigan. She's spent the last 16 years with Washtenaw County Public Health, with a special focus on helping under-served populations. She already had a strong working relationship with the school system, helping to develop the district's wellness policies and to administer the Farm to School program, which provides locally-grown healthy food to students. "I enjoy working in that environment," Bacolor says, "so when I saw this opportunity I jumped at it."
The opportunity came with the retirement of outgoing director Sara Aeschbach after 31 years of service to the system. But Bacolor was already more than familiar with Community Education and Recreation — not just as a public administrator, but as a parent. The strength of the school system's recreational programs was key to Bacolor's decision to move her family into the district. "I have two children," she says, a daughter, 13, and a son, 10, "and we saw all the activities that would be available to us." Both children play sports made possible by Rec and Ed. "As a parent I really liked the team sports," she says. "Everybody plays, and it's about having fun and getting some good physical activity." This summer, Bacolor's son is happily attending one of Rec and Ed's geology-themed Green Camps. "They go out to the quarry and learn about geology and rocks," she says.
A helping hand
It's more than just fun and games, though. Community Education and Recreation also provides before-and-after-school child care, which Bacolor found invaluable. "It's such a great service for working parents," she says. "I have to say it's really well done." Now, Bacolor to monitors the same program that helped make her career as a working mother possible.
As she takes the reins, Bacolor is ready for new challenges. "My focus for these first few months is to get to know the programs from the ground up," she says, "[I will] support the staff here and learn from them so we can work together towards improving programs where we see a need." She's been thrilled so far by what she's seen. "I've had such a fun week meeting staff and visiting programs," she says. "I can tell you from just three days that the staff are incredibly dedicated to providing high quality service to people in Ann Arbor." There's no doubt that their boss is, too.