When Adam Macjiewski was a student at Cedar Grove-Belgium High School, he never thought he’d some day be looking after hundreds of children every day.
Now, between teaching, coaching four sports and running the Port Washington Park and Recreation Summer Playground program, the 32-year-old spends 50 weeks
a year with kids and couldn’t be happier.
“In high school and college, I wanted to do my own thing, work for myself, by myself,” Macjiewski said. “Now I’m handling 200 kids in the summer and 800 during the school year and I love it.”
This is Macjiewski’s second year running the rec program after spending nine years as a park leader.
For about $2 a day, children age six to 14 can spend 4-1/2 hours Monday through Friday afternoon playing games, making crafts and taking fun field trips with park leaders, most of whom are in high school or college.
This year, the program was expanded to offer activities at Fireman’s Park in Fredonia as well as Hill School, Antoine and Kolbach parks in Port Washington and Quade Park in Saukville.
“I started as a park leader when I was 22 because I needed a summer job,” he said. “It’s a lot of responsibility for the leaders.”
The program coordinates with Port’s highly successful summer school program, giving kids a full day’s worth of activity — and their parents a break.
When summer school finishes for the day, buses take kids to the different parks.
There are between 70 and 80 children at Hill School, while Kolbach and Antoine each have about 60 children, Macjiewski said. Quade Park has 25 kids and
Fredonia’s fledgling program has 12.
There are three leaders at Hill School, two each at Quade, Kolbach and Antoine, and one at Fireman’s Park.
While many leaders are from the Port-Saukville area, there are leaders from Cedar Grove and Oostburg this year.
“They want to be teachers, so we thought this would be a good introduction to that,” Macjiewski said.
Each week, leaders choose a theme that culminates with “Wednesday events” at a different park each week.
“We play games that we wouldn’t normally play during the week,” Macjiewski said, noting Wednesday events usually attract about 100 kids.
Children can attend any park they wish during the week, but are usually assigned based on where they live.
The leaders try to vary the games from favorites like “Witch Doctor” dodgeball or “Mafia,” a duck-duck-goose spin off, to crafts and “tag” games targeted for younger children.
It’s encouraging to see the progress of children when they start in the program at a young age to where they are on a maturity level when they finish, Macjiewski said.
“Usually when the kids start, it’s all about winning and they complain when they don’t,” he said. “When you see them a few years down the road, it’s not all about winning anymore and they’re teaching the younger kids what’s important.”
Being around the program the last 11 years, Macjiewski has plenty of memories.
A few years ago, Macjiewski was a leader at Dunwiddie when one of the kids noticed smoke coming from a porta potty.
“Turns out somebody from outside the park program had lit the thing on fire, so I said ‘Ok, let’s go play somewhere else,’” he said.
He’s also proud of a game he helped create for a Western-themed Wednesday event called “The Alamo.”
“Basically, the nine park leaders set up picnic tables in the circle to hide behind and 100 kids hurl dodgeballs at them from all directions,” Macjiewski said.
“The kids love playing with the leaders because as soon as they hit one with a ball, it’s like the greatest thing in the world.”
Besides the Wednesday events, the program usually takes two or three field trips a year.
A favorite last year was a trip to Sky Zone Trampoline Park in Waukesha.
“We had 98 kids go, which is the largest group we’ve ever had,” he said. “It’s nice to have indoor field trips because you never know how the weather will be.”
As a special education teacher at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Port, Macjiewski sees a lot of his “park kids” during the school year.
“During the park season, they call me ‘Adam,’ but during the school year, they have to call me ‘Mr. Mac,’ so it takes them about a month to adjust,” he said.
The toughest part of the program, Macjiewski said, is keeping children entertained for several hours at a time.
“If you work with kids or have kids, you realize they have an attention span of about 30 seconds, so we try to switch up games as much as possible,” Macjiewski said.
Another challenge is getting parents to pick their children up in the event of bad weather.
Macjiewski will post an update on Facebook and put up signs at the parks letting parents know that it’s canceled for the day.
“If parents aren’t picking their kids up, we just let the kids know it’s not their fault,” he said.
“We have some parents who will buy equipment for the park or bring pizza for the kids once in awhile.
“We have other parents who will drop their kids off and let us handle them.”
For more information on the park program, visit www.portparkandrec.com/summer_playground.html or call the Port Parks and Recreation office at 284-5881.
Adam Macjiewski spends his summers looking after hundreds of kids like this group at Hill School Park as the Port Washington Parks and Recreation
Summer Playground program coordinator. Photo by Sam Arendt