By Starrla Cray
WRIGHT, CARVER, McLEOD COUNTIES, MN From disco dancing to computer training, community education has changed with the times and the trends.
Community ed directors Margaret Marketon of Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted, Pam Lukens of Lester Prairie, and Helen Waldock of Watertown-Mayer met recently to discuss their experiences.
“Disco’s definitely out,” Marketon laughed, adding that when she started at HLWW more than 30 years ago, it was one of the more sought-after classes.
Now, ballroom dancing and swing are “in.” The upswing in popularity of dancing classes coincided with the debut of the TV show, “Dancing with the Stars,” Lukens said.
“It’s affected by what’s happening in our society,” she said. “I think it goes in curves.”
One factor that’s impacted community ed in recent years has been the troubled economy.
Evidence of this is the increased number of people taking General Educational Development (GED) tests, in order to find a job.
“Employers are requiring higher education,” Marketon said.
During the heavy layoffs of 2009, an area workforce center came to HLWW Community Ed to provide people with counseling sessions, networking opportunities, and computer training.
Marketon said she’s even had people come to community ed looking for help with their resumes.
“Those are the things you won’t see in our brochures,” she said.
The economy has had other impacts on community ed, as well. Sometimes, when finances are tight, adults won’t take classes themselves, but instead will use their money for their children.
“In tough economic times, parents always want what’s best for their children,” Waldock said. “They think of themselves last.”
Area community ed organizations often look for sources, such as donations or scholarships, to help people who can’t afford to take classes.
“I’ve gotten calls from people where both parents are unemployed,” Marketon said.
Government funding of community ed is “very skeletal,” according to Waldock.
“We really do depend on participant fees,” she said.
Fundraisers such as community breakfasts, arts and crafts fairs, carnivals, and garage sales also help bring in extra money.
A shared vision
Community ed often works with other educational groups in the area, such as libraries and 4-H clubs, to help make the most of each program’s resources.
In HLWW, for example, 94 groups used the facilities in the 2008-09 school year.
“We develop that connection so these things can happen,” Waldock said.
In Lester Prairie, the 55 Alive driver safety refresher course sometimes doesn’t get the minimum 15 number of participants. By calling other communities, they’ve been able to partner their classes.
Community ed groups don’t compete with each other, Marketon said. Instead, they’re committed to the shared goal of providing a positive learning environment.
“I like seeing people doing something new and learning,” Marketon said. “They can be 2 years old or 92. . . . A couple of classes that take my breath away are the adults that learn to read and sign language classes. I’ve seen the results.”
It takes a great deal of courage for adults to take reading classes, Waldock said.
“It’s people you’d never guess,” Marketon said.
Seeing people develop a lifelong skill has been richly rewarding, the directors said. Marketon has seen people take an oil-painting class 25 years ago who still enjoy painting today.
“It can be a life-changing experience,” she said.
Waldock, who has been involved in community ed at various districts for the past 36 years, has witnessed similar transformations.
“I’ve seen people who were deathly afraid of water become proficient swimmers,” she said.
Community ed has also been the source of some funny memories.
“I remember having an obedience school for dogs,” Marketon said. “They didn’t always get along with each other.”
Another program she remembers was a basketball giveaway. They had 100 un-inflated balls that had to be pumped up immediately in order to be given to the 100 children participating.
“Boy those needles got hot,” Marketon laughed. “These are the things you look back on and say, ‘What were we thinking?’”
Marketon, Lukens, and Waldock have each participated and taught a few community ed courses of their own.
Lukens has taken art classes and teaches lefse making. Waldock has taught coaching and ballet, and Marketon took a time-management course, and has been a school-aged care instructor.
For Lukens, a major highlight of being involved in community ed is “getting out and meeting a variety of people.”
Each community has a unique program that’s specifically tailored to that area’s needs, Waldock said.
When community ed first started in the early 1970s, it was very adult-focused at HLWW, Marketon said. Lester Prairie was on the other end of the spectrum, and included mostly classes for youth.
Throughout the years, the programs have greatly expanded, and now include a huge variety of offerings.
Classes and instructors
The types of classes offered are based on a number of factors. In Lester Prairie, a survey was conducted about five years ago to determine what people wanted.
“That was a great source of information,” Lukens said, adding that she hopes to do another survey soon.
Waldock said that community ed continues to offer classes that have been successful.
“What’s worked in the past, we want to keep that going,” she said. “We also have people who call and ask specifically for a class.”
If enough interest is generated in a class, the directors will look for an instructor.
All instructors must undergo a background check, but the requirements to teach a class vary. Certification is needed for anyone teaching first aid and CPR classes, for example.
“They need a demonstrated skill,” Marketon said.
Instructors’ compensations also vary.
“Some are strictly volunteer, some are paid by the number of participants in the class, and some are paid per hour or by a contracted service,” Lukens said.
It can sometimes be a challenge to balance the number of instructors with the number of participants anticipated to join a class, the directors said.
“It’s a delicate dance,” Waldock said.
More information about Lester Prairie’s Community Ed is available by calling (320) 395-3011.
To reach community ed at HLWW, call (320) 543-3600.
The phone number for Watertown-Mayer Community Ed is (952) 955-0280.