Jennifer Arnold is the Director of Newtown Continuing Education and a Newtown mom of 2. Jenn’s department offers a variety of courses and classes for children and adults. In addition to running Summer Camp programs, Newtown Continuing Ed also offers Driver’s Ed, Summer School, SAT Prep, and more.
Where are you from originally and how long have you lived in town?
My name is Jenn (Jennifer when my husband is so serious, or Jenny to those I grew up with) Arnold. I grew up in Westport/Norwalk, CT, and my husband and I started our life in Newtown 7 years ago.
Child(ren) and Age(s)?
I have 2 children, ages 5 and 2 – and our hearts and hands are full!
One thing people would be surprised to know about you…
I think people would be surprised to know that I am Hispanic, and Spanish was my first language. Most often, I actually think in Spanish and have to convert my thoughts into English before speaking. It used to be something I was self-conscious about, but now it’s just part of what makes me who I am, and it is certainly easier now as an adult. I spent all of my vacations, from the day school was out for the summer or Christmas break came, up to the age of about 12 in Mexico/Guatemala with family, really living the culture and lifestyle; it makes for the fondest of memories and best experiences of my life. This usually comes as a shock to people when they find out.
Favorite things to do with your kids?
My favorite things to do with the kiddos are super cliche, but I really enjoy going to the park on a gorgeous day, making flashcards with my 5-year-old because he loves this too, or a good, messy, art project. Our Friday night guilty pleasure is Bleeker Street pizza, popcorn, and a movie. When COVID wasn’t in the way, we enjoyed touring the state as a family and visiting family in different parts of CT or going to a beach. Getting in the car with no plan and driving to a spontaneous adventure used to be our favorite thing to do.
Favorite spot in our area?
My favorite spot in town depends on the season. I have to say, I actually love going to work every day. It’s such a positive and inspiring place to be. I feel like it’s a place to grow, learn from others, but also be able to make a difference and it’s so self-rewarding. I guess if I had to choose a “place” aside from work it would be in the woods of Newtown; Orchard Hill, Fairfield Hills, just somewhere where we can take a fresh breath in and relax while enjoying our kids.
Greatest gift about being a mom?
The greatest gift about being a mom is being able to see the world through your children’s perspective and watching them evolve. If you really let go of everything you know through experience and listen to the innocence in their remarks, it opens the world to a whole new level. Kids are truly not filtered and have the best imagination, funniest comments, and tiniest voices with the biggest laughs you’ll ever hear. They also make the best of friends, as long as you don’t tell them any secrets! They are great listeners (well, depends), big observers, they appreciate anything, have so much love to give, and can have fun with literally anything. They are so in tune with themselves and the lens in which they view life is amazing. Being a mom overall has been so rewarding.
Best mom hack that makes life run more smoothly?
The best mom hack is a tablet! OK, just kidding. I don’t really have any “mom hacks.” I like simplicity though. We are on the go a lot, with activities, going from one place to another, so pre-packing a little container of snacks for on the go is the best. Not really a mom hack, but a useful tip.
Least favorite “mom” chore (ie packing lunches)?
My least favorite mom chore is folding the laundry and putting it away – is that one or two chores!? The laundry just piles up so quickly and it’s such a process. At least the dishes kind of do themselves in the dishwasher and it’s just putting them away in the same general vicinity of one another. Laundry is a whole different animal. Even when you fold things nicely they are wrinkled when you pull them out of drawers or wrinkle when hung, it’s just annoying! I own an iron, but it’s a nuisance to do this all the time (or at least I think so). If someone has a mom hack for this one I would be the happiest!
Can you share a bit about your background and your path to to becoming the Director of Newtown Continuing Education?
Before moving to Newtown I worked for insurance and really enjoyed my work, but the hours were long and the commute longer. When I became a mom I realized that if I had to work I wanted to be sure that my child wasn’t going to be in daycare all day and that I would always be a call and 5-mins away. I decided getting a job in public service in town would be a great balance and allow for me to always be nearby in case of an emergency. I worked in the Parks and Recreation department for about 5 years and enjoyed developing programming, marketing, and working with families and our children in the community. After some time, I realized I wanted to expand on what I was doing and take it to a different level. I knew I wanted to continue making a difference for families and to be a support and resource for students and adults. The Newtown Continuing Education opportunity came along and I just knew this is where I saw myself making a difference for our community on a greater level. I am so fortunate to have this opportunity. Working with our students, parents, and other adults in the community is the most professionally rewarding experience ever. I not only help students reach their goals in getting a driver’s license or in preparing for their SAT, but I help adults continue their education, have fun and or learn a new skill. Whether it’s offering the GED program or an enrichment class, I get to make a difference. I have people telling me this is the first place they’ve felt comfortable in since COVID. Last summer, our department provided students with the first chance to return to school buildings through our summer school program. While that was a huge responsibility, it was amazing to be able to provide a safe place for our kiddos to continue to learn, socialize and actually step foot into a classroom. We also gave a few teachers the opportunity to return to normalcy and do what they do best – teach. I feel like there is no other profession that can be as rewarding as education for me. It truly gives me a different perspective and the work our teachers and administrators do is really leaving an impression for the rest of a student’s life. I am so proud to be a part of such an important team, making a difference, big or small and supporting our students and families.
Let’s talk about what you’re offering this summer for students! Can you share a bit about your camp programs?
This summer I am offering a few summer camps. SMART Camp, Outdoor Explorers and Knot and Chat. The Summer Splash academy is a new initiative and I am super excited to offer a camp experience for students in our summer school programs. They miss out on other opportunities to attend camps because they are with us half a day, so this really provides them with an opportunity they may otherwise not have. It also encourages parents to be less stressed about scheduling. As a working mom, I know it’s difficult to commit to half day programs when you work, and this provides a happy-medium solution and ensures parents their kids are having fun, learning and playing without giving up the learning part for their children.
For older students, Newtown Continuing Education puts together a Drivers’ Ed program with Next Street, as well as SAT Prep. Can you tell us a bit about how those programs run? And finally, you have a range of programs for adults. Can you give us a quick run-down on some of your most popular classes?
Aside from summer school and summer camps, what I do most of the year is adult enrichment (financial and retirement planning, computer skills building, mind and body classes, first aid, bus trips and tours, meal prepping and much more). We offer adults in our community the opportunity to engage in something exciting or to take a chance to continue learning starting in the fall and ending in the spring. We also provide the GED, ESL, CREDIT DIPLOMA, CITIZENSHIP programs, amongst other academic classes for adults. We work together with Danbury to ensure adults in our community have a chance to pursue higher education and many of those programs are FREE for our Newtown residents. We also provide high schoolers with internship opportunities for the summer, we negotiate a savings for the drivers Ed courses through The Next Street, and provide it for our high schoolers (and have an adult program now too). We also put on the SAT Prep programs for sophomores/juniors or anyone needing SAT prep to be able to learn strategies and skills and become familiarized with the test format to perform better on one of the biggest exams of their high school careers. We are currently working on bringing more programming for our high schoolers to enjoy this summer.