Tribune Print Share Text

Back to school

Love of learning leads to growing continuing ed program at Charlestown

Created date

October 11th, 2017
Pat and Bill Bettridge, as well as many of their neighbors, are involved in the Elderhostel Lifelong Learning Institute at Charlestown.

Pat and Bill Bettridge, as well as many of their neighbors, are involved in the Elderhostel Lifelong Learning Institute at Charlestown. 


This fall, more than 20 million college students across the country will head back to class. Charlestown residents Pat and Bill Bettridge will be among them thanks to the Elderhostel Lifelong Learning Institute at Charlestown (ELLIC), which offers on-site, noncredit college-level courses at the Catonsville community. 

Now in its tenth year, ELLIC is flourishing at Charlestown, offering community members the opportunity to participate in nearly 100 different classes and special programs. A wide variety of subjects includes history, art, literature, music, computers, science, and travel—for just $15 a semester. 

“The courses can range from nuclear physics to scarf tying,” says Pat, a former Mount de Sales Academy English teacher. “We try to stimulate people intellectually, so there’s a bit of everything. Courses run the whole gamut!”

Most courses are taught by residents who are retired teachers, artists, world travelers, or just have a special hobby or interest, but special programs taught by outside instructors are also part of the curriculum.

Cover a lot of ground

“We meet as a committee and discuss the course subjects,” says Pat, a member of the ELLIC Special Programs Committee, which seeks and coordinates outside speakers. “We want to be sure we are offering a broad and balanced selection that will appeal to most people.” 

Pat recently recruited playwright Sam McCready and Irish actor Joan McCready to perform A Time to Speak, the remarkable story of Prague dancer Helen Lewis’s endurance during the Holocaust. This performance, which was the only one given in the U.S., attracted a capacity ELLIC audience. 

“We have had some utterly fascinating people with terrific backgrounds,” says Pat.

Peggy Wixted, a retired eighth grade social studies teacher, is among a small group of Charlestown neighbors who helped start the ELLIC program a decade ago.  

“To quote Albert Einstein, ‘Once you stop learning, you start dying,’” says Peggy. “The ELLIC program has provided me the opportunity to take classes in history, science, literature, art, music, humor, religion, and crafts.” 

In August, Peggy attended a lecture given by a senior scientist from the Maryland Science Center on solar eclipses, a topic that coincided with the total solar eclipse on August 21 of this year. The class also included a day trip to the Community College of Baltimore County’s Banneker Planetarium. This fall, Peggy is teaching a course titled “The Panama Canal: The Moon Shot of 1914.” 

“I love that as residents we are able to share our talents, gifts, and life experiences,” says Peggy.

Live and learn

Classes begin in October and run through June. The year is divided into two semesters: fall and spring, and a course catalog is distributed at the start of each semester. Classes are on a first come, first served basis. In 2017, 450 Charlestown residents participated in the ELLIC program. 

“The ELLIC program is a great example of how you continue to grow when you move to a retirement community like Charlestown,” says Pat. “You don’t keep stagnating year after year. It’s easy to discover new interests, and the ELLIC program keeps growing bigger and bigger each year.” 

A 2016 Pew Research Center survey shows that the people who live at Charlestown are not alone in their lifelong pursuit of knowledge. Of adults polled, 73% consider themselves lifelong learners participating in activities that include reading, taking courses, or attending meetings or events tied to learning more about their personal interests. 

Eighty percent of personal learners say they pursue knowledge in an area of personal interest because they want to learn something that would help them make their life more interesting and full.

“Before we moved to Charlestown, we participated in Johns Hopkins Odyssey program [a noncredit liberal arts program], as well as courses at the Community College of Baltimore County Catonsville campus,” says Pat. “But we do even more now living at Charlestown than we did living in our house because the opportunities are right on your doorstep.

“I am so enthusiastic about this program,” she adds. “It’s absolutely fantastic. I try to get others involved and interested. It is an incredible learning experience. I have been exposed to worlds I knew nothing about.”