Of all courses in the Pierce ENCORE program for older adults, perhaps none is more timely and impactful than Maureen Feldman’s Staying Connected in the 21st Century. The class is designed to help the elderly use newer technologies and adapt to a more technological world.
Run by Ida Blaine, the program is funded by the California State Department of Health and has about 2,200 active students.
When Feldman’s class began, she said half of the students didn’t know how to use Zoom. There are now about 50 students since many were unable to transition online.
Feldman uses screen sharing and video tutorials to show his students how to use food delivery and ride sharing apps. There are even lessons on how to use Venmo, how to order prescriptions and how to book appointments online.
While other courses aren’t directly meant for coping with social distancing, Encore can play an integral role in allowing older people a chance to share learning and camaraderie—even if it’s done remotely.
Garineh Avakian has been the choir professor at Encore for more than four years. She said in a Zoom interview that the program is like a family and that seniors enjoy the program so much that they will hold unofficial Zoom meetings over the summer to stay in touch.
“They are a collective voice and a tight knit community,” Avakian said.
Avakian has altered the program to fit the new online format. The students are now compiling a video and picture slide along with their voice tracks to the song “Hey Jude.”
There are around 113 students in the choir. While only around 60-70 students attend the Thursday Zoom meetings because of issues accessing the program and internet, three students have been added since the transition to online.
Janice Banarer has been a member of the choir for eight years. She said in a Zoom interview that the Encore program gives older people “a chance at a second life.” She said these students get to express themselves and said the program is an incredible experience.
“[The Encore students] are creative people who never got a chance to do these things when they were busy in their working life,” Banarer said.
Ken Windrum, an instructor who teaches cinema, has taught at Encore for more than 10 years. Windrum said in a Zoom interview that teaching the class is rewarding.
“Teaching Encore is the fun at the end of the week, where you get people who are so excited to be learning,” Windrum said. “They are really grateful and enthusiastic.”
Windrum said he has lost around a third of the class and attributes the loss to difficulties in transitioning online.
The class, which typically would watch films together, now uses Swank to watch free films and meet once a week for lectures and discussions.
Richard Follet, a professor who teaches Greek mythology, retired from full-time teaching at Pierce but continues to teach in the Encore program.
Follet said in a Zoom interview that he continues to learn as he is teaching the class and enjoys the perspective that he receives from the older students.
“They have a wealth of knowledge and experience, so they will offer insights that I couldn’t have come up with otherwise,” Follet said.
In the fall semester, two new classes will be offered to Encore students.
Neal Brostoff has developed these classes and will teach Music Humor and Music of the American-Jewish Experience.
He has been developing the classes to fit the new online format and thinks that the seniors will help each other with the transition to remote learning.
Brostoff said he thinks the seniors might fear that online teaching will take away from the intimacy of in-person classes, but he that Zoom allows the classroom setting to remain sufficiently interactive.
Brostoff said that Zoom offers more order than an in-person classroom with features such as mute, chat, screen-sharing and a computer-generated raise/lower hand.
And for ENCORE students still uncertain about the technology, they can receive help in fall when Feldman again will teach Staying Connected in the 21st Century.
To learn more about the Encore program visit community.piercecollege.edu/encore/index.asp.