There are no exams, no grades and no pressure at Comox Valley ElderCollege.
But there is an opportunity to learn about a variety of topics at the school that caters to students on the far side of 55. Subject areas could include digital photography, bridge, opera or early British history. Other courses include Books Into Film, Crime in a Cold Climate, Yoga for Men Only and Social Scenic Saunters, otherwise known as hiking.
“We have variety in every way you can think of,” said Dr. Alana Gowdy, chair of the communications committee. “We have variety in the course topics. We have variety in the way the courses are offered. That’s once a week for eight weeks or for six weeks, or for four weeks. Or once in a long afternoon. It’s called a short course.”
The volunteer organization began locally in 1999 — the International Year of Older Persons — when Elizabeth Smith, Betty Emery and a few others pictured an organization that would have seniors as students, instructors and volunteer managers. That vision became a reality in September, 1999 with nine courses and 51 students.
Hundreds of courses have since been offered to thousands of students.
Instead of teachers, instructors are known as course leaders. Some bring professional backgrounds to the classroom; others have a personal motivation.
“Their enthusiasm gets across to the classes,” Gowdy said. “You find people who are taking four, five and six classes.”
In 2014/2015, membership exceeded 900 students.
“Our members come from various backgrounds,” said Gary Priestman, chair of the executive committee. “Most of the people are new to the Valley at one point, but the common denominator is they all share a passion for continuous, lifelong learning. Our role as an executive is to meet that desire for learning. One of our biggest jobs is recruiting course leaders that want to share their passion.”
Besides expanding knowledge of an existing passion, Priestman says students can “try something new in a welcoming, friendly environment” without pressure.
“So you can step out of your comfort zone.”
Along with chairing the executive, Priestman is also a course leader and a student. He took a class called Get a Grip on Opera.
“It was fascinating to step outside my comfort level and take something that I knew nothing about,” he said. “It didn’t turn me into an opera buff, but it did help me answer more questions on Jeopardy.”
A popular feature is an eight-week Saturday morning lecture series, which Priestman said is “sort of the flagship offering.” The last series, Crime and Punishment — Canadian Style, sold out in an hour. Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May and former Speaker of the House of Commons Peter Milliken were among the speakers.
“He flew on his own dime from Kingston to come and talk,” Priestman said.
Past guest speakers have included hockey legend/analyst Howie Meeker and former PGA golfer Dick Zokol. The upcoming lecture series in the fall will look at Northwest Coast First Nations art. Carol Sheehan will deliver the first lecture.
Statistics indicate ElderCollege is growing in the Valley. A total of 59 courses were taught in the last winter term — the highest number in several years.
NIC accommodates the program by providing classroom space during the day.
“We’re part of their continuing education program,” Priestman said. “They provide us with infrastructure, and in turn we provide part of our tuition to them.”
ElderCollege also offers a $1,000 bursary to an individual studying in an area related to the Valley’s demographics, such as a gerontology student. The school started a second bursary last year, also worth $1,000, in honour of ElderCollege’s 15th anniversary.
“In addition to that, we have given money towards improvements to the Stan Hagen Theatre at North Island College, and also we’ve given money to upgrade supplies in the library,” Priestman said.
The symbiotic relationship is evident in the hallways on any given day.
“You’ll see these senior citizens wandering around, going into their classes side by side with the younger generation,” Gowdy said.
Other NIC campuses also offer ElderCollege.
Membership in the Comox Valley is $10, which entitles members to register for courses. It’s valid from Sept. 1 to Aug. 31.
A free public information forum will be held at 10 a.m. Sept. 19 in the Stan Hagen Theatre.
Registration begins Sept. 21 at 9 a.m. The first lecture is Oct. 3. Regular courses start Oct. 5.
Course fees range from $10 to $40.
“Some of the courses are filled within an hour,” Gowdy said. “ElderCollege is alive and well.”
Register at www.nic.bc.ca/ec or drop by the registration office at the campus.
For more information, call 250-334-5000 (Local 4602) or email firstname.lastname@example.org