Keeping your brain fresh at any age

Area programs help senior students continue learning
By: Martha Garcia, Gold Country News Service
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Learning something new is an adventure, no matter what the age. Two regional programs cater to older students who want to return to the classroom. The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, based at Sierra College’s Roseville Gateway campus, offers classes for active adults with inquiring minds. Deb Sutphen, dean of liberal arts and program manager for Osher, said the program is steered by an advisory committee consisting primarily of seniors who are the “eyes and ears” of students. They help “keep our classes relevant for our students and our facilities appropriate to their needs,” she said. The tuition-free classes and programs offered at Osher, Sutphen said, stimulate the minds of older adults and “provide them with a community of fellow learners to which they might not otherwise enjoy access.” Courses range from religion and film, music and art, to subjects such as “Prostitution: Fact and Fiction.” Offerings in the fee-based Club OLLI club include tai chi classes and “Mental fitness: Mahjongg Club,” which Sutphen said is one of the most popular activity classes. Osher Institute classes are also held at the college’s Rocklin, Nevada County, and Tahoe Truckee campuses, as well as at the Eskaton Village in Roseville and at Lake Wildwood in Penn Valley. Judy McCoy, principal of Placer School for Adults, on Finley Street in Auburn, said the program has classes that are designed for older adults. The school, she said, realizes the need for more than hobby-type classes, since many seniors need to go back to work. Specifically designed for that population are the “Life begins at 55” computer classes. “They are scheduled during the day because many of our students have asked to have classes scheduled before 5:30 to 6 in the evening,” McCoy said. Starting March 28 is a five-week class called Placer Adult School Strategies and Assistance in Gaining Employment, also known as PASSAGE. “It provides computer skill instruction and office skills, including job search preparation, cover letters and interview skills,” McCoy said. Art classes, which are popular with older adults, are also held during the day. McCoy said the art program covers media from watercolor and pastel, to color theory. In an art history class, students create hands-on art projects that reflect a period of art or a particular artist. “Recently,” McCoy said, “we had a chair project and each student brought in a chair to paint in the style of the artist they had been studying.” The chairs were created in Linda Pietz’s class at the DeWitt Center in Auburn. Older students, even those who have never taken classes before, are great learners, Pietz said. “After retirement, they have more time. They dive in,” she said. “Art is very good for problem solving,” Pietz said. Her teaching philosophy, she said, “is process over product.” She teaches the fundamental steps involved in art to challenge students in creating their own works of art. Contact the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at (916) 781-6290 or online at Reach the Placer School for Adults at 530-885-8585 or Reach Martha Garcia at