Carson Bonner, Campus Carrier news editor
Berry Senior Scholars, a program for adults 55 and older looking for continued education, has been a part of Berry for over 25 years. With classes offered at Oak Hill and the Martha Berry Museum such as creative arts, religion and philosophy and even a tap exercise class, the program coordinators have a goal to ensure anyone interested in continuing education in some way can have their interests represented and find a class that works for them.
The program was originally started for seniors in the Rome community who wanted to further their education through Berry but didn’t have the time to audit a full semester class. The seniors were given the opportunity to attend classes in “semesters” of 4-10 weeks, meeting weekly in their desired class. According to Allison Moore, Director of Community Engagement and Education for Oak Hill and the Martha Berry Museum, the semester outline makes the classes more available to seniors.
“A real effort was put in for the seniors to be able to take classes in schedules that best fit them,” Moore said. “The goal of the program has always been to promote community involvement and give the seniors in Rome a way to keep learning new things without necessarily having to commit to auditing a full class at Berry. While we still have several seniors auditing, this program gives them a shorter time commitment while still giving them a time and place to learn in.”
Over 20 classes are offered through the Oak Hill and Martha Berry museum as a way to promote community-centered relationships, give Berry a chance to engage with the community, as well as to help adults in the Rome area continue their learning journey. According to Educational Outreach Manager and Berry senior Chloe Pontes, the classes are taught not just by Berry faculty but by community members as well.
“We have a lot of community involvement with this program,” Pontes said. “People from Rome and the area around will come and take classes that are being taught by professors and also people who are from the community they live in. I think the fact that there’s such a diverse group of teachers as well as students is what makes the classes so special. We really like to have that community tied into what the classes are.”
Continued education holds a number of benefits, especially for seniors. Learning new things has been proven to improve cognitive health and can prevent depression, reduce the risk of memory loss and improve self esteem. According to Moore, these are some of the reasons she encourages seniors in Rome to take the classes offered in the program.
“Continuing education is important for everyone,” Moore said. “It holds even greater importance for seniors who may be newly retired or experience another big change in their life. Learning more about their interests or maybe even something they’ve never heard of can really help them out and make life more enjoyable.”
Students in the classes have become so invested in their classes that some have even continued to pursue their new hobbies after their classes have ended.
“We had a group of students from a journaling class start their own journaling club after their class ended,” Moore said. “The teacher of that class called me and asked if it was okay that the students had started meeting outside of the class to do it and I said ‘of course, we absolutely want them to keep doing that.’ If we can get the students involved to the point that they feel confident enough in their new skill to keep pursuing it with each other after the class is over, that’s the ideal outcome.”
One of the newer classes being taught is an autobiography class. Berry professor of writing and rhetoric and Director of the Writing Center Melissa King teaches the senior scholars how to write autobiographies. The program, “Writing Your Life,” teaches them ways of pulling out their own stories and putting them in writing through learning exercises like photography, article searching and looking at historical items.
“Teaching for the senior scholars is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done,” King said. “They’re amazing and teaching the course is particularly interesting because they come in with such incredible stories. Each scholar goes from a brief account to a wonderfully fleshed out and engaging narrative. They have a tendency to produce such great work that from the very beginning of teaching, I’ve taken their work and compiled it in a volume that we print through Amazon Kindle.”
Classes begin this week and will continue for the rest of the semester. Some classes are still open for registration and seniors within the community are free to sign up.