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Lifelong learning

Education continues year-round at Brooksby

Created date

April 23rd, 2013

Spring semester is under way at Brooksby, the Peabody, Mass., Erickson Living community where lifelong learning courses began this year to strong enrollment and ongoing interest from community members. The second session of Live and Learn classes again joins people living at Brooksby to share expertise on a wide variety of subjects, including ethics, origami, investments, style, literature, and travel. There s an active intellectual life here at Brooksby, says Bill Whiston, who lives in the community and teaches Paths of American Thought: The History of Ethics, his second course this year. Current events, writing, and reading groups have long flourished at Brooksby, but the launch earlier this January of Brooksby s Live and Learn Program marked the first comprehensive series of course offerings at one time. A group of residents and staff came together to talk about ways to increase the number of educational opportunities offered at Brooksby, says Fran Gerrior, Brooksby s community resources lead coordinator, who organized the program with help from a resident task force. Residents expressed how interested they are in continuing their lifelong learning, most especially from the comfort of their Brooksby homes. From these meetings, Live and Learn was created. About 140 people enrolled in the first session of courses, which began in January, and the second session garnered similar interest and enjoyment for teachers and students alike when it began last month.

Tackling new subjects

Thirty years after he retired from teaching economics as a college professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Harvard University, Bill relished the opportunity to teach something new at Brooksby. In January, he chose to teach the equivalent of a full semester course called Paths of American Thought: A Survey of American Philosophical Authors. I thought I would do something a little different, and I ve always been interested in the way the United States has emerged from the colonies of England to an independent academic and scholarly [presence] on this side of the pond, Bill says. In later years, the United States has become an intellectual leader around the world. Bill assigned short reading exercises that sparked class discussion for both his philosophy and ethics courses, always aiming to answer the questions: Who said it first, and who said it best? He was pleasantly surprised by the level of class participation. We ve been able to get close to 100% participation, he says. Based on a survey of his first class of students, Bill chose to examine great ethical thinkers in his second course. I think they re getting to know their neighbors in a different light; they re getting to discuss topics at a level that wouldn t come with the normal conversation, Bill says of his students.

Creative discussion

Casual conversation in French was the subject of another course earlier this year. Former French teacher Phyllis Toban, who lives at Brooksby, hosted a weekly class providing an opportunity for people of varying skill levels to listen and participate in discussions in French. Phyllis began meetings by telling stories in French and then opened the discussion to others. She added mini-lessons of basic grammar, while keeping the atmosphere informal and sometimes leading the group in song. This takes a little bit of ingenuity, but I always enjoy teaching and it gives me a lot of satisfaction to see these people opening up who kept insisting they were just there to listen, she says. Phyllis expects to keep the class meeting on an ongoing basis.

Hands-on learning

Rather than conversation, Jerry Weiss, who lives at Brooksby, focuses on hands-on creativity in origami lessons. Jerry has taught the Japanese art of paper folding for many years. Originally, origami was basically taught by parents to their children, mainly to teach them how to use their hands properly, for the dexterity, Jerry says. Now it s almost become like an art form. It s expanded, so it s not just for children anymore. Now teaching his second session of classes at Brooksby, Jerry limits the number of students to 12 so he can spend time with them one-on-one if they need assistance. Each class builds upon techniques learned in previous lessons, and students create three or four projects in each. Swans, pinwheels, and sailboats are typical projects. I ve been doing it for so long and I very much enjoy it, and I think most of the people who were in the class got something out of it, Jerry says.