Meet the Director of Summer Fun

McKenzie Prom loves spending time with children at the Port Washington Parks and Recreation Department’s Summer Playground Program. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

“Look at this face,” McKenzie Prom said as a girl about 6 years old with dark brown hair in pink shades and a pink tank top smiled at her.

Moments later, a boy placed two rocks in front of Prom at the picnic table where she was sitting.

“Are they mine now?” she asked.

“No,” the boy said as he walked off with his friends.

That’s what Prom loves about her job in the Summer Playground Program offered by the Port Washington Parks and Recreation Department.

“I honestly like hanging out with these kids. They are so awesome,” she said.

Prom, a 2017 Port High graduate, was a park leader last year, running games at Meadows Park, and this year was promoted to park coordinator.

Each weekday between 12:30 and 5 p.m., she visits Kolbach, Hill School and Meadows parks, checking in with leaders to see how things are going and if they have the supplies they need.

“We have a lot of new leaders this year so I had to make sure they know the rules to all the games,” Prom said.

She makes sure to do one more thing.

“I usually play every game,” Prom said.

Games for children ages 5 through 12 include witch doctor, a popular form of dodge ball in which each team has one player — the witch doctor — who can send players bounced from the game back into play. Teams will often have their witch doctors hang toward the back, sometimes with guards in front. It’s vital they stay in the game.

“Everybody always gets mad at the witch doctors if they get out,” Prom said.

The leaders, she said, have “jailbreak powers” that bring everyone back into the game.

A game called steal the bacon and involves a coveted bowling pin. Team members on opposite sides of the pin — the bacon — are each assigned a number one through five. Leaders call out a number, and children of that number race to see who can grab the pin first and earn a point for their team.

One challenge in selecting games, she said, is having them be simple enough for younger children to understand but fun enough for the older children to enjoy.

Prom knows most of the games she helps teach. She used to play them herself.

Several years ago, Prom was a regular in the program. She even can still fit into a couple of summer park T-shirts from her preteen years. Her mother, she said, thought ahead and ordered a larger size.

“I loved park as a kid,” she said. “I just liked being outside for four and a half hours with people I liked.”

She remembers some of the theme days, including Harry Potter. “I was so stoked for that,” she said.

In her new role, Prom creates flyers and contacts parents about weekly updates, upcoming events and field trips. This year, visits to Blue Harbor Resort, Ozaukee Skateland and Shalom Wildlife Zoo are planned.

“I’m not that big of a fan of the paperwork aspect,” she said. “I’d rather be out here.”

Being around children is a fitting role for Prom. She is attending the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and hopes to be a pediatric nurse. She spends her mornings as a certified nursing assistant at Columbia St. Mary’s-Ozaukee Hospital.

The education she gets in the afternoons — Prom calls it her “fun job” — is just as helpful for her career.

“It’s definitely hands-on experience and human-to-human contact,” she said. “It has given me the knowledge on how to communicate effectively with kids. You have to use different techniques.”

For quieter children, Prom gets to eye level and lets them know what is happening. The older ones are put in charge of tasks.

“Talking to them once or twice I can usually tailor my communication technique,” she said.

Sometimes, the older children are role models. One at Kolbach Park, Prom said, treats the younger children nicely and has a following of little ones.

Her experience has also given her a new perspective on another career.

“Now I have so much respect for teachers,” she said. “I don’t know how one person can keep control of so many kids.”

Generally speaking, she said the boys are more immature and rambunctious than the girls, but there are exceptions.

One rule, regardless of gender, is that phones are only used to call parents. Children aren’t sitting around playing video games.

They get water breaks after each game and may bring their own snacks.

A four-stage system of discipline is in place, but being forced to sit out for one game, which usually does the trick, Prom said.

The program, Prom said, is good for children of all types, including those with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and those on the autism spectrum.

At the end of the program in August, each park creates its own music video. Guest judges —usually lifeguards — select the winner during pool day.

The parks get together for competitive games as well. The winning park receives the traveling trophy of the shiny silver bowling pin. Children receive awards and a one-page yearbook with as many of their photos that can fit.

Pouty faces are often found on children on the last day of the program, but they look forward to next year, as do the leaders.





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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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