Head of the class
Last year, Gerry Jones toured the Parthenon, sharpened her spelling skills, mastered the fine points of Windows Vista, got a backstage glimpse of a Broadway show and discovered the secrets in King Tut’s tomb. And she did it all without leaving home.
The former research librarian is an avid participant in Keys to a Sharp Mind, a lifelong-learning series offered at Laurel Lake Retirement Community in Hudson. The three-year-old program, made possible by a grant from The Reinberger Foundation, offers intellectually and socially stimulating classes and seminars to the residents of the 150-acre continuing-care campus.
“The content of each course is
extremely rich,” Jones, 78, says. “The quality of instructors is superb — each is a real dynamo who’s clearly an expert in their field.”
And the program’s director, geropsychologist Paula Hartman-Stein, says that’s the way it should be. “As people age, it’s absolutely essential that they be engaged both emotionally and cognitively,” she says. “These programs are designed with that philosophy in mind.”
A case in point was one of last fall’s seminars, “Platforms, Propaganda and Polls: A Political Primer for the Presidential Race,” taught by Jerry Graham, a retired Shaker Heights High School government teacher. More than 100 residents jammed Laurel Lake’s community room, eager to share their views on the upcoming election. Naturally, a spirited discussion ensued.
“When you’re our age, you think you know everything,” Jones says with a laugh. “The class was terrific. It left many of us rethinking the preconceived notions we’ve had for years.”
Although Hartman-Stein guides the program, Laurel Lake residents chart its course by participating in The Resident Advisory Committee for Keys (TRACK, for short). She never ceases to be surprised by the topics residents choose — which span the gamut from current events to music appreciation to art history to cutting-edge trends in medicine. “It puts to rest,” says Hartman-Stein, “the stereotypical misconception of what people in continuing-care communities want: hands-on crafts and bingo.”
One of the most popular offerings is the Friday morning creative writing workshop, led by Kent State University English instructor Katherine Blackbird. Over the course of the class, she’s asked participants to pen their thoughts on a variety of subjects, ranging from an object that’s particularly meaningful to personal milestones.
“It’s amazing to see how the writing process awakens talent that’s become dormant,” Jones says, “and to see people who have been a bit reclusive open up. They’re floored by what comes out of their pen.”
This year, residents have expressed a desire for a curriculum that includes programs in science and spirituality. Plans are in the works for seminars focusing on ways to develop new energy sources, as well as a class exploring religions of the world.
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January 16, 2009