Senior communities are "giving it the old college try" by partnering with area schools to keep the learning going and the mind stimulated. In some instances, it has become a mutually beneficial relationship with the older adults mentoring younger college students.
Lifelong learning keys
Keeping the mind engaged as one ages is key, according to experts in lifelong learning. Helping make that idea palatable: courses and programming offered do not require test taking, grades, pressure or a strict curriculum.
"Traditional learning is outcome-based, where students are motivated to learn primarily by external pressures from parents, teachers/trainers, employers, the consequences of failure, grades, certificates, etc.," says Lynda Wilson, Director of Humanities, UCLA Extension. "Mature students don't typically share this motivation. They are interested in the sheer joy of learning, so it is important courses aren't designed to be strictly outcome-based. LLL (lifelong learning) courses also provide mature students with opportunities to stay engaged and meet new friends, which enhance longevity and vitality."
Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UCLA is one of several Osher LLI partnerships across the country. OLLI at UCLA offers a wide array of instructor-led courses across topics, including music, history, science, art, foreign language, and more.
The success of these types of partnerships lies in bringing this learning method directly to seniors, according to Kathleen Swan, Senior Program Leader at Harper College.
"Bringing programs into the community in which the student lives provides them with the ease of access and the opportunity to learn with us and connect with other curious minds," she says.
Friendship Village in Schaumburg, Ill., so believes in the lifelong education concept for its residents it has a dedicated staff person — Jeannette Magdaleno, Lifelong Learning and Volunteer Coordinator.
"Henry Ford once said: 'Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young'," relates Magdaleno. "Residents of Friendship Village embrace this sentiment by staying mentally active attending lectures through Harper College's LLI (Lifelong Learning Institute) and Roosevelt's ICL (Institute for Continued Learning). They know that lifelong learning can be socially invigorating while also improving memory and cognitive abilities. And, they want to know more for the joy of learning."
The Harper College LLI brings programs to people ages 55-plus at the Harper College Palatine, Ill., campus and to 11 different partner sites. They include park districts, senior centers libraries and residential facilities.
"Topics are recommended by students, partner site coordinators, current instructors and myself," says Swan. "I 'fit' the program to the site. Some sites prefer music, some art, some history, etc. I also determine what the older adults would be interested in pursuing. Students want qualified instructors, and I pursue college professors and qualified community members to teach."
The most recent program through Harper was "Jane Austen and Her Women."
"This delightful one-woman show brought the women of the novels of Jane Austen to life, using her own words," says Magdaleno. "Leslie Goddard, dressed in period costume, introduced the audience to Austen's witty, ironic and brilliant language and to details about her life and her views of love and marriage."
Bob Rickert believes in "keeping my mind active." The 75 year-old resident of Monarch Landing in Naperville, Ill., has found a way to do just that by helping to facilitate a partnership between Monarch and North Central College, also in Naperville.
"We started attending (NCC) fine arts performances, and they sometimes bring previews to us here. We average going to a program there monthly now, and they bring about two performances or previews here each year. It's really fun because when we attend their performances, we usually bring enough residents to make up about 1/3 of the audience."
An Expert Speakers Series with professors and faculty came next in the partnership and then a mentoring program between residents and NCC students. One of the first speakers talked about Asia. He followed up by bringing students from NCC who had traveled with him to Asia to talk with the residents. When it was recognized how much the students and residents enjoyed the interaction, it was decided to launch a mentorship.
A series of "speed dating" sessions were held, during which residents visited briefly with students from NCC, and then rotated to talk with other students. They eventually connected in pairs, and continue to correspond with each other. The residents became mentors to the students, sharing life, work and educational experiences. Currently, there are 10 mentor/students pairs, but the program plans to expand to at least 15 by the end of the year.
"Our collaboration enriches the lives of North Central College students as well as the Monarch Landing residents by sharing life experiences," say Rickert.
Another piece of the collaboration is that several students from NCC have interned at Monarch Landing and several students work at the community.
One of the most unique aspects of the ties with NCC, says Rickert, "is the fact that this is a resident-driven program. It's strongly supported by staff at Monarch Landing and the faculty at NCC, but it is resident-driven. Also unique and special is the fact that this is a true collaboration on multiple levels."
—Rose Marie Mikolajczak for Primetime