Marilee Christensen-Adams loves Community Education. From her children taking swimming lessons and participating in Adventures Plus to her involvement as an Adult Basic Education (ABE) volunteer, from making a bracelet in an adult learning fused glass to her work as a Community Education participant and employee, Christensen-Adams is a proud supporter of all the department has to offer.
For bringing a “genuine dedication, a commitment to quality and humor to her work,” Christensen-Adams recently received the “Community Educator of the Year” award from the Minnesota Community Education Association (MCEA). As assistant manager in the Community Education Department, Christensen-Adams is responsible for early childhood programs.
Christensen-Adams was nominated by Early Childhood Special Education (ECFE)/School Readiness Program (SRP) supervisors Mary Washburn, Beth Yokom, Kathy Mirocha, and Jody Bordwell.
In their nomination letter, the women wrote that they have all benefited from Christensen-Adams wisdom, kindness, respect, and humor. The women wrote about how Christensen-Adams has made a difference in the lives of young children in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.
“An example of this is our Kindergarten Readiness Program, a targeted low income preschool, which has grown from three locations to eight locations, due to additional funding from the K-12 budget,” the women wrote. “Working with K-12 district leadership, Marilee secured administrative and school board financial support for the program.
“Saying that she ‘puts the money where her mouth is’ is no small statement. Thanks to Marilee’s leadership, 320 low income children, who otherwise might not have attended preschool, will be ready for kindergarten and ongoing academic success.”
A native of Hastings, Christensen-Adams graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. At that time teaching jobs were scarce and Christensen-Adams started her career in the corporate childcare world. She went on to earn a graduate degree from the University of Minnesota in work, community and family education. Both experiences helped prepare her for her work in Community Education.
“My experience in corporate childcare helped me with the business aspect of Community Education,” Christensen-Adams said. “I knew how to create budgets, collect fees and provide high-quality customer service.
“My graduate work taught me how to lead a large program, curriculum and how to know if an organization works. Currently we have 1,400 students in our pre-kindergarten programs and serve about 9,000 parents and children in our ECFE programs.”
When Christensen-Adams joined the Anoka-Hennepin Community Education Department 29 years ago, she said she felt like she had “come home.”
“When I came to Community Education, I found like-minded, creative, out-of-the-box folks who believe in education across the life span and what that adds to individuals and the community as a whole,” Christensen-Adams said when she accepted the award. “I share this award especially with my Anoka-Hennepin colleagues, but hope that you all share the pride of being Minnesota Community Educators.”
Her colleagues nominated Christensen-Adams for the award. Surprised and humbled by the award, Christensen-Adams points out that the word “community” is in the award title. In her acceptance speech at the MCEA’s award banquet held in Mankato, Christensen-Adams highlighted the efforts of parents, teachers and supervisors with whom she works.
“We have one mom with 1 ½ year old triplets and a four-year-old who comes to class and recruits her friends with multiples to come too,” Christensen-Adams said. “And there are the parents who pay tuition and drive to and from with their little ones to get to ECFE or preschool programs.”
Christensen-Adams speaks warmly about the work of the Kindergarten Readiness Program (KRP), School Readiness Program (SRP) and ECFE teachers.
“We had a child who was so far behind at the start of the school year that we were going to refer him to special education,” Christensen-Adams said. “But by January he was writing his name legibly, starting with a capital letter.
“It’s great to see a child’s growth. I love reading parent evaluations. The comments are so heartfelt from parents who appreciate the benefits our programs provide to their children and their families.”
In working with children at risk, Christensen-Adams said the supervising and coordination team have done extraordinary things to recruit families. In visiting trailer parks and apartment complexes, the staff stops at homes where it looks like a child lives. They talk with parents about the programs available to their children and walk them through the application process.
Christensen-Adams appreciates the staff she works with for all they do.
“The supervisors talk with parents when their child needs assessment or is having a tough time in other areas of their lives,” she said. “They also create instructional and classroom resources and support so our teachers can do their jobs with excellence.”
Christensen-Adams also notes the work of Director Steve Kerr, Manager Diana Menster-Sullivan and others in the department for being statewide leaders in Community Education and their legislative work on policies and standards for early childhood and parent education.
Christensen-Adams loves Community Education and the difference it makes for children and their families.
“No two days are the same in Community Education; it’s vexing at times, but there are days that will bring you joy,” she said. “It’s exciting to work with families and advocate for what services we can provide to them and their children.
“Every day I come to work I want to contribute something and make a difference.”
For information about Community Education programs, go to www.discovercommunityeducation.com .