Community Education marks 40 years of meeting needs

Madsen, LindaLinda Madsen
Guest Columnist

Forest Lake Area Schools has an active and engaging Community Education program and, with the coming of this new school year, we will be celebrating the program’s 40th year.

Our Community Education staff and volunteers preliminarily kicked off the 40th year celebrations by having a float in the 4th of July parade. Truly an all-ages affair was had as staff members, youth participating in baseball, lifeguards, and coaches walked down the Forest Lake streets showing off their FLAS pride. The float was such a success that the American Legion awarded our Community Education team the Hometown Pride Award.

The program as it is now has developed out of a rich history. Community Education began in 1973, when Stan Petersen became the district’s first full-time Community Education Director. Prior to leading Community Education through its first formative years, Stan had a strong involvement with Forest Lake Area Schools. He lettered in football, basketball and baseball during his time at Forest Lake High and led his classmates as senior class president in 1946. Later, he enjoyed a long and illustrious career as a teacher and baseball and football coach for the district. As Community Education director, Stan personally founded the local Little League summer program and designed many of the area baseball fields that are still in use today.

Petersen’s successor was Dan Poepard. Dan started his career with Forest Lake Area Schools as a social studies teacher in 1970 and later became a high school counselor. In 1985, he became the Community Education director. Under his leadership, the Community Education program grew and prospered, becoming a program that the district and our community could be proud of.

Our current director, Julie Ohman, has a similarly significant history with FLAS. For 25 years she taught kindergarten, first, second, third or fourth grade at Forest View Elementary before leading Community Education. As the Community Education director she has charged forward with the program’s high standards and program development to ensure that it continues to meet the highest standards for the community.

Over the course of decades, our Community Education program has grown into an active and crucial part of the Forest Lake Area Schools environment. The mission of “meeting community needs” is taken very seriously, and we are constantly working to improve upon and expand the programs to evolve with the Forest Lake area. With the coming of another decade, the program is seeking to reach out even further into the community. This year there will be coupons in the newsletters and the Community Education department is offering several free classes as a celebration for its coming-of-age.

As Community Education grows, the programs have to undergo changes to stay current. The early childhood program is excited to be offering a kindergarten readiness summit this fall for any area professionals who work with pre-school aged children. It will be an excellent opportunity to come together to look analytically at Minnesota’s current early childhood care and education programs, and to pay close attention to what research has shown to be advantageous for preparing children for kindergarten.

For those of you involved with our Community Education program: the employees, volunteers, coaches, and everyone in between, I send out a “thank you.” Our Community Education program would not be the community resource that it is without your help. Our volunteers work alongside our loyal staff people to turn the cogs of the Community Education machine – making sure the mission of engaging all learners, young and old, is upheld.