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El Paso County Colorado District 49

Community education classes create camaraderie

District 49’s community education program provides a variety of classes, from observational astronomy to martial arts, to the public at a minimal cost. The program began October 2003, with an enrollment of 80. Word spread and 130 enrolled in the spring session.And this October, 200 people enrolled in the community education classes.Twenty classes were offered this fall and only five were canceled because of a lack of interest, said Jay Hahn, the director of the program. The most popular class: 40 people enrolled in ballroom dancing.Having had a banjo gathering dust in my den for a couple of years and a simmering desire to play, I noticed that D 49 was offering a class, “Guitar, Bass, Mandolin, Banjo” on Wednesday evenings. I sent in my registration, and I’ve learned there are great advantages to this program – the most obvious is the cost.Six group banjo lessons are just $45, about half the norm.Eleven instructors are teaching the courses, some are in the district, most are contracted from outside. Michael McKee is the banjo instructor, and he has been teaching adults and children for 20 years. He said there is not a lot of difference between teaching adults and children. “When adults are learning something new, they become just like kids,” McKee said. He also is teaching a class, “Crime Scene Forensic Investigation.”Another advantage to the program is the convenient location of the classes. Classes are held in the D 49 buildings, so no one has to drive to Colorado Springs. Hahn said that using the school buildings allows residents to experience the classroom in their school district. “These are the community’s buildings, the public’s buildings,” Hahn said. “These types of programs go a long way toward letting people know this is our philosophy.” The philosophy is embracing the community and making the residents a part of the school district.The best thing about the program is that each class comes with a built-in support group. Whether one is learning electronic repair or hip-hop dancing, there are people in the same boat, struggling with the same learning process. Of course, it’s not like suffering through tenth grade algebra, where half the class would like to be somewhere else. Just about everyone in a community education class is there because they want to be; they have an interest in the subject matter, and they’re willing to sacrifice a few evenings to get to know the subject.About 20 people are in my class/support group, and 15 are learning guitar; three are studying the mandolin and four of us are there for the banjo. The youngest is 10-years-old, and there are a few who could be considered seniors. Aside from the desire to play an instrument, the only thing we probably have in common is our Wednesday night class and sore fingers. That must be enough because amidst the chatter and laughter, we have all become friends.Hahn said the community feedback is positive. “The goal of this program is, as the district grows, the program will grow with it, will keep expanding and become self sustaining and year round.”Fliers for the spring session, which will begin after spring break, will be mailed in February.

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