Certifiably Professional: Measuring Success in Parks and Recreation

By Chipkin, Harvey | Parks & Recreation, April 2010 | Go to article overview
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Certifiably Professional: Measuring Success in Parks and Recreation


Chipkin, Harvey, Parks & Recreation


* This year, the CPRP program will complete its centralization into the national association with the remaining 13 states turning over their jurisdiction.

* Progress is being made on the creation of more advanced levels of certification--particularly for the CPRP designation.

* NRPA's overall certification process itself is moving toward accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies--which would lend gold-star validation to the process

To better understand how far certification at NRPA has come, it helps to look to the origins.

Doctors do it. Lawyers do it, And so do parks and recreation professionals. For well over a half century, parks and recreation professionals have been seeking certification of their skills, knowledge, and experience. lust as M.D. conveys a doctor's training and knowledge, so do the three certifications of the parks and recreation field--Certified Parks & Recreation Professional (CPRP), Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI), and Aquatics Facility Operator (AFO)--offer similar proof of competency. For NRPA, 9,010 looks to be a milestone year in how far certification at NRPA has advanced.

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Certified Park & Recreation Professional

While formal certification, as we know it today dates only to the late 1990s, the profession has long gravitated toward some form of recognition of professional competency. In the 1950s when certification began, the emphasis was on registration. As Janice Geden, a recently retired staff member of the Colorado Parks & Recreation in Boulder, Colorado, explains it, "Any certification program always had the elements of the three Es: education, experience, and examination. At that time, lacking an exam, they looked to education and experience."

Since its beginnings in the 1990s, the CPRP program has seen no changes, though there was concern grew over its slow growth. That changed with NRPA's 2005/06 strategic plan, which sought to assess the value and relevancy of the existing program but also its management and future direction. In 2006, the National Certification Board (NCB) and NRPA completed, with the assistance of an outside consultant, a comprehensive assessment of these areas. The assessment found overall satisfaction with the concept of certification, but it also turned up the need to centralize the management of the national program under NRPA and to develop mastery level certifications. Those are tasks that should be complete in 2010.

Geden, an early proponent of certification, worked to bring along others in the field. "As a director," she says, "it was an important part of my job to mentor staff on the importance of certification by setting the example to become certified."

Certified Playground Safety Inspector

As for the origins of the Certified Playground Safety Inspector certification, Tom Kalousek, who is in his third term as chairman of the National Playground Safety Institute, an official NPRA body, dates the focus on playground safety to 1981 with the publication of two handbooks on the issue. In 1988, an organization called the American So ciety of Testing and Materials international was formed to develop written standards for playground safety, Kalousek explains. That same year ASTM was petitioned by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to create a set of safety standards. It took until 1993 for those standards to be set. But with that achievement, NPRA decided that a formal training program was in order and the CPSI course was launched in 1993.

Aquatic Facility Operator

NRPA's Aquatic Facility Operator (AFO) program dates to 1989 when the NationalAquatic Section of NRPA began creation of a training program for pool operators. The program, designed for community swimming pools, had to be free of product bias and needed to be given by professionals who are thoroughly trained and continually evaluated.

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