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In a class of their own

Lifelong learning program has participants sharing their own school of thought

Created date

August 21st, 2012

In early 2008, Charlestown residents were asked if they had an interest in forming an Elderhostel Lifelong Learning Institute (LLI) at the Catonsville, Md., Erickson Living community. Their response was a resounding yes! Now in its fifth year, the Elderhostel Lifelong Learning Institute at Charlestown (ELLIC) continues to flourish, offering residents the opportunity to participate in up to 90 different classes most of them taught by volunteers, all of whom live at the community. It s proven to be a very popular program, and the feedback we get is so positive, says Charlotte Valentine, registrar and former chair of the steering committee, a group of 17 volunteers, including two Charlestown staff members who organize and oversee the ELLIC program. Now known as Road Scholar, Elderhostel is best known for offering unique travel/learning adventures throughout the world. But the not-for-profit organization also provides resources and support for people to teach each other through the LLI.

Well-rounded education

Each year, we enroll anywhere from 350 to 400 students, says Charlotte. There is actually a mad rush to register when the catalog first comes out. People know if they don t register for the classes they want early on, they won t make the most popular selections. For an annual membership fee of $25, Charlestown residents can take as many classes and special programs as they wish from a wide range of subjects including astronomy, calligraphy, computer fundamentals, culinary adventures, environmental concerns, film history, fitness, finance, genealogy, global warming, historical biographies, and history. Most classes run from one to three sessions; however, more in-depth subjects can last as long as eight to ten sessions. Last year, Charlotte took 17 classes and taught a two-day class titled Our Own Stories on DVD, in which she shared her experience collaborating with University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) students to create digital stories. She also shared those stories of her colleagues. I really enjoyed teaching the class and showcasing these wonderful mini-movies, says Charlotte. It gave those who didn t participate an opportunity to see exactly what digital storytelling is all about.

Information sharing

Although Charlestown already has a partnership with the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), offering nearly a dozen non-credit courses each semester, ELLIC classes offer residents an alternative to the two-to-three-month-long courses. The whole idea of ELLIC came about because the CCBC partnership was somewhat limited in course offerings, says Mary Evans, community resources manager at Charlestown. We had a vast population of residents in the community who began to come forward and say they had gifts and talents they wanted to share. We needed a venue where all of those skill sets could express themselves. ELLIC seemed like the perfect fit. Charlotte says it s that personal aspect that has made ELLIC classes so popular. ELLIC teachers are not paid professionals, says Charlotte. Instead, residents rely on their own personal experience and knowledge about a subject to form the basis of the ELLIC classes. And their enthusiasm about the subject is what compels them to want to share it with others. ELLIC committee member Ralph Strong, a retired engineering manager from Westinghouse Electric Corporation, has taught a variety of classes, including Voodoo Science, Astronomy, History of the Scotch Irish, Tours of the National Electronics Museum, and The San Francisco Earthquake. He has also taken classes like History of Religion, NASA Rockets, and Cold War Spies, among others. We have accomplished astronomers, engineers, business people, and housewives living here who are eager to share their knowledge on subjects they are passionate about, says Ralph. Volunteer-taught classes have also allowed the ELLIC program to keep costs low according to Peggy Wixted, chair of the curriculum committee. At $25 a year, ELLIC is a bargain, says Peggy. In 2011, Peggy attended 30 classes and taught 7 others, including The First Ladies, Presidents in Wartime, The Bubonic Plague, Secret Service Penetrating the Wall of Secrecy, Humor Is Everywhere, Golden Age of Comedy on TV, and Stay Tuned Unforgettable Moments on TV. We offer 65 classes and courses and 25 special programs on music, art, history, entertainment, humor, and eminent lectures, she says.