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Elena De La Ville

Ringling College Continuing Studies

“I like to inspire curiosity,” says Elena De La Ville, who’s taught adult visual arts classes at Ringling College for 20 years. De La Ville’s offerings span media from photography and Photoshop to painting and wax, often with an emphasis on the abstract. “With abstractions, you’re getting into another way of seeing things,” she says.

A working artist herself, De La Ville studied textiles in London and painting in Venezuela. Adult students, she says, are often fulfilling a dream. “Most have been something else in life,” she says. “They’re [in class] for a real reason. They want to learn this particular thing.”

De La Ville encourages students to open up and learn from each other, an approach that’s won her a big following. One woman took nearly every class De La Ville taught over the last 10 years. “She’s now quite an accomplished artist,” says De La Ville of the star student. “She’s studying internationally.”

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Mary Jane Ayers

Adult and Community Enrichment

“Singing is good for you physically and mentally, and it’s a socially rich experience as well,” says Mary Jane Ayers.

Her classes, like music appreciation and “The Remarkable World of Opera,” draw dozens of eager learners. And others repeatedly attend her intermediate-level voice classes.

Before retiring to Sarasota, Ayers taught college students for 27 years at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C. Many “already had music lessons for years,” she says. “[Teaching adults] is so satisfying because you’re opening up a world for them.” One student was denied singing lessons as a kid; another took her children to music classes for years; one couple attends the symphony and opera and wanted to know more about what they were hearing.

“Someone in my voice class actually cried,” Ayers recalls. “They got up, and they sang well for the first time ever. Then they said, ‘I didn’t think I could ever do this.’”

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Jeff Rodgers

Pierian Spring Academy

Guiding students to the farthest reaches of the known universe with smooth, confident narration, Jeff Rodgers is Southwest Florida’s Neil deGrasse Tyson. (In fact, during his earlier tenure at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan, Rodgers worked with the Hayden Planetarium, where Tyson now serves as director.)

Since 2004, Rodgers has encouraged intergalactic exploration from Bradenton’s South Florida Museum and the Bishop Planetarium, where he engages overflow audiences with classes like “Science Today,” “A Short History of Nearly Everything” and “An Earthbound Human’s Guide to the Universe.” Some people even take the same class multiple times.

Rodgers says he enjoys connecting with his students, whether through state-of-the-art planetarium displays or lower-tech approaches. “You have people in their 70s or 80s standing around holding a rubber sheet, dropping bowling balls and marbles,” he says of one activity he does to demonstrate gravity. “You get to see the lightbulb go off.”

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