RecZone gave students a safe, fun place to do their schoolwork

When the Town of Perinton Recreation and Parks Department opened the RecZone, it didn’t intend to start a school and didn’t aim to be day-care.

“We wanted to offer something that took some of the burden off parents, but we wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a place to go because they needed a place to go,” said Recreation Director Jeff Nutting. “We strived to offer a fun, safe, and educational place for parents to send their kids.”

And that is just what the staff at the Perinton Community Center did. From the time school opened in September until students went back to school full time in March, the RecZone hosted more than 70 hybrid Fairport School District students from 8 a.m.-5:30 p.m., Monday-Friday. The Teen Center at Potter Park would host 30 or so students a day after school until 5:30 p.m.

“I can’t be prouder of what the Rec Department did,” said Town Supervisor Ciaran Hanna said. “This was something we have never attempted before, but when they came to me with the idea, I thought it was a great way to help the schools, the parents and the kids during a school year damaged by COVID-19.”

There were two groups of students from grades kindergarten-7th in the Fall and two in the Spring. Groups would come on their hybrid days instead of staying at home or going to day care. One group was Mondays and Thursdays and the other would come Tuesdays and Fridays. The groups rotated every other Wednesday.

The students were offered a safe area to do their schoolwork, join virtual classrooms, and attend lessons. They also had scheduled gym time, movies, cooking classes, swimming, crafts and sledding. One student was even able to attend his virtual tuba lessons in the aerobics room.

Recreation Supervisors Janelle Reed and Mike Clark took on the huge task of hiring 34 part-time employees to supervise the 3 classrooms at the PCC and the upstairs and downstairs at the Teen Center. They also coordinated all the students’ virtual schedules and coordinated the timing of any one-on-one lessons the students had.

It wasn’t school and it wasn’t day care, but it was a place that relieved tremendous pressure from parents and the schools.

“My wife and I are extremely happy with the high quality of care our 6-year-old daughter – Hailey Best – received from Perinton Rec’s fantastic RecZone program,” said parent Jay Best. “Her counselors were amazing – fully helping Hailey to acclimate to both the nuances of kindergarten and having an exciting and wholesome atmosphere in which to develop other friendships with other students.

“Hailey was always excited and grateful to go to RecZone, and we appreciate all the thoughtful and integral activities the program conducted.”

The school district delivered free lunches for the students every day.

“I am so grateful for our partnership,” said Fairport Superintendent Brett Provenzano. “Jeff Nutting and Supervisor Hanna were so accessible and willing to contribute as needed during a time of great uncertainty. It is reassuring to know that we have partners who are a phone call away and stand ready to meet the needs of our community.”

The PCC has also altered programs to make sure school-age children could use the facilities.

“The PCC has been an incredible partner since the inception of the pandemic,” Provenzano said. “They flexed their programs to accommodate parents and meet the needs of our younger students. This was an invaluable service to our community in such an unprecedented time.”

Clark said it was a transition, as he and Reed were often racing to the gym to pull a student for a lesson last minute. They also had to make sure they changed the activities to keep the program fresh. Counselors had to make sure students had time to calm down for a lesson after active activities. Every day was a new experience.

“The arts and crafts projects were always very creative, and very in touch with holidays and seasons,” Best said. “Physical activity – like in the gym – was very well-organized, and staff members were very aware of giving the children opportunities to participate in a variety of new activities (parachute games, etc.). It was never just a situation where the kids were running around on their own. Staff members were always extremely caring and kind, and always knew exact nuances as to the type of day Hailey had. It was a wonderful program, through and through.”