Feed Your Head

Wise Up: A Guide to Sarasota's Continuing Education Classes

If you want to learn something, chances are, there’s a class for it right here in town.

By Hannah Wallace December 30, 2016 Published in the January 2017 issue of Sarasota Magazine

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“I’ve always wanted to learn this, but I’ve never had the time.”

That refrain echoes through Sarasota. Our community is full of successful, enterprising people who seek out new challenges and creative outlets. Many are retirees who want to stay engaged and involved. Social scientists note that baby boomers, in particular, value lifelong learning, and a growing number are choosing to retire to college towns where academic opportunities abound.

In addition to a number of colleges and universities, Sarasota has a cottage industry of organizations dedicated to adult enrichment classes, including Pierian Spring Academy, Sarasota Institute of Lifelong Learning, Ringling College’s Continuing Studies program, and Sarasota County Schools’ massive Adult and Community Enrichment (ACE) program. All together, they offer hundreds of different classes every year, ranging from rug weaving and conversational French to stargazing. If you want to learn something, chances are, there’s a class for it right here in town.

“I moved here in ’97, and there weren’t many courses available,” says Robert Carlson, former head of Pierian Spring academy and president of the Sun Coast Alliance for Lifelong Learning. “Since then we’ve watched an expansion.” And demand keeps growing, he says, as the surge of new baby boomer retirees adds to the population of eager students.

Ringling College, which is consolidating several established lifelong learning organizations under the umbrella of its Academy, estimates that by 2018 its continuing studies programs together will reach more than 7,500 individuals. Just last year, ACE reported more than 12,000 enrollments in its courses—an 18 percent increase over 2015.

And lifelong learning classes are about quality as well as quantity. Sarasota attracts high-achieving retirees from all over the world—diplomats, TV news executives, journalists, artists, university presidents and more—who often enjoy turning their talents to teaching.

Yet as much as there is to be learned, these courses provide other benefits as well. “It’s not just the intellectual stimulation,” says Carlson. “It’s the associations they develop, the friends they make. They develop social circles. Groups spin off and become regular social gatherings.”

Retired attorney Elaine Charney began as a watercolor student and now teaches popular watercolor classes. Some students plan their trips around when they can attend her workshops. “I don’t think very many of us hope to become Michelangelo,” she says. “It’s the wonderful camaraderie. Everyone’s just so kind and supportive. That’s the extra blessing about taking a class.”

Class Acts

From the psychology of film to understanding the media, a sampling of popular courses.

Water Color with Elaine Charney

“Every day is a new adventure,” says Elaine Charney of her popular watercolor classes at ACE. “You can go finger painting and enjoy it, or you can analyze color and theory and design.” Charney, an attorney by trade, is not far removed from her own experiences as an adult learner, having taken a number of ACE art classes before being tapped as a natural instructor a few years ago. Now, with her soothing voice and endless encouragement, she gives demos to her students and then walks around helping students “get lost in the artistic process,” she says. At the end of every three-hour session, students have something they can frame and hang. Jan. 20-March 10, ace-sarasota.com

The Changing Face of the News Media

“Most people have very little knowledge about how the news media really works. I try to fill those blanks,” says Sam Roberts, a retired reporter and former senior news executive for The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite. “I try to be candid and thorough, making no excuse for the media’s current shortcomings, and explaining how a vibrant, aggressive, free press is essential in a democracy.” For years, Roberts taught college-age students at the University of Miami. With adult learners, he says, “It’s always a relief not to have to explain events like Watergate, the Bay of Pigs or the Cuban missile crisis.” Feb. 27-March 20, pierianspringacademy.org

Outsider Art

At Longboat Key Center for the Arts, students explore the lives and experiences of people who create “outsider art”—that is, self-taught artists who aren’t (or weren’t) part of the art world establishment, like Sabato Rodia, the Italian immigrant who created Watts Towers in Los Angeles. This course culminates in a bus tour to Solomon’s Castle in Ona, Florida, where renowned outsider artist Howard Solomon has built a fairytale-style manor where he lives and continues to create whimsical artwork. March 18-20, ringling.edu/LBKCA

The ’60s: Ten Tumultuous Years and You Were There

After going to medical school, instructor George Stassa spent 35 years as a professor of anatomy and radiology—but he’s wanted to teach history since high school, and adult students “have the background to better digest the information,” he says. His classes are, in part, trips down Memory Lane, and though he spends extensive time researching and preparing his presentations, he says the students’ own experience and knowledge also contribute to the experience. Jan. 9-Feb. 20, pierianspringacademy.org

History and Myth Behind Italy’s Greatest Monuments

When she lived in Italy, Simona Bai gave little thought to the significant historic architecture—“pieces of history,” she calls them—she encountered every day. But now that she lives so far from them, teaching helps her connect both to the art itself and to those non-Italians who “are so amazed by our culture and history,” she says. “The students in my class [are] curious and delighted by what the human capacity was able to transform into eternal beauty.” And some will be motivated to visit her homeland and see these structures in person, she adds. Jan. 17-March 7, ace-sarasota.com

Psychology in Cinema

For every “outer story” dramatized by a film, there’s an individual “inner story” reflecting the unique experience of each individual view, says instructor David Eisner, who intersperses the movies in his class with pauses for discussion—sometimes animated, often as revelatory about the students themselves as it is the film. “Participants are often surprised to discover—even when they’ve previously seen a film—that the story contains psychologically and philosophically enriching themes they hadn’t recognized.” Jan. 17-Feb. 21, ace-sarasota.com

Beware the Woman Scorned

Consider it a book club for badasses. Longtime literature professor and speaker for the James Joyce Society Phyllis Jaffee leads this six-week Pierian Spring Academy course exploring powerful women in early Greek tragedy, centered on the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. Jan. 12-Feb. 16, pierianspringacademy.org

The History of Comedy

In a town that’s all about its culture and entertainment, of course there’s a course devoted to thoroughly examining just what we think is so funny. Through Ringling College’s Lifelong Learning Academy, historian Jordan Shifrin starts with cave paintings and covers all the way up to contemporary politics. It’s laughter that makes you think. Jan. 10-Feb. 28, thelifelonglearningacademy.com

The Supreme Court

Aspiring pundits, take heed: This popular recurring class remains especially relevant right now as the Supreme Court awaits its new justice. Through the Lifelong Learning Academy, retired attorney Alan Bandler goes over the history and structure of the court, and then delves into important decisions that today’s court has made and may soon be making. A must for anyone who wants to have an opinion on the way law works in America. Jan. 9-Feb. 27, thelifelonglearningacademy.com


Englewood Art Center introduces students to printmaking, the art of crafting a metal template that can be used to create—and recreate—prints out of materials like ink or paint on paper or cloth. The variety of techniques covered in this five-course series includes 500-year-old processes like etching and drypoint. Jan. 25-Feb. 22, ringling.edu/EAC

SILL: Global Issues Series
Rather than a traditional classroom setup, the 46-year-old Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning recruits a team of experts to present a series of thought-provoking lectures, for folks who just want to sit back and listen to smart people talk. This year’s lectures include “Expectations of Privacy in the Digital Age” (Jan. 10), “Afghanistan: Condemned to Chaos or Prospects for Progress?” (Jan. 24), and “HIV/AIDS: Lessons for Other Epidemics?” (Feb. 14). sillsarasota.org

SILL: Music Mondays

Riffing off of its long-successful Global Issues series, Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning now presents a program of musical conversations with performers. This year’s line-up includes a harpist and the principal flutist for the Sarasota Orchestra (Jan. 23), conductor and organist Kent Tritle (Feb. 27) and world-renowned tenor Robert White (March 13). sillsarasota.org

Lifelong Learning Resources

Adult and Community Enrichment (ACE)

Arts, language, technology and self-improvement courses offered through Sarasota County Schools and Suncoast Technical College. (941) 361-6590, ace-sarasota.com

Pierian Spring Academy

Seminar and lecture-style series spanning art, science, sociology and more. (In June, Pierian Spring, named for the fountain of knowledge in Greek mythology, will merge with Ringling College Lifelong Learning Academy to become part of the Academy.) (941) 716-2471, pierianspringacademy.org

Ringling College Community Education Programs

A variety of art and design courses offered through Ringling College and community partners. (941) 955-8866, ringling.edu/CommunityEducation

Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning

Lecture series exploring global issues and music at the First United Methodist Church in Sarasota, the Venice Community Center and the Cornerstone Church in Lakewood Ranch. (941) 365-6404, sillsarasota.org

Sun Coast Alliance for Lifelong Learning

Aggregates class offerings from several local groups under a single website and search engine. suncoastlifelonglearning.org

Many Southwest Florida organizations, especially local colleges as well as arts and cultural groups, also offer classes, lectures and workshops. Check your favorites for additional offerings.

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