By Michelle DeWitt
Senior Citizens Coordinator for the Township of Montclair-Lifelong Montclair
When we kicked off the Winter 2021 semester of the MILL (Montclair Institute for Lifelong Learning) after almost a full year of virtual programming, we thought that local seniors would be tired of experiencing the world virtually from their computers. Instead, they continued to embrace virtual programs, and to enjoy all of the classes from the safety and warmth of their own homes.
While in the past we had to deal with digging out from snowstorms, parking limitations, and the potential for slips and falls, this winter there were no cancelled programs due to weather. Our clients continued to enjoy programs safely, including exercise programs and an array of stimulating classes.
One such class was presented by Dr. Lillie Edwards, a professor at Drew University. Dr. Edwards taught a six-week class on “African American Studies” during Black History Month. Another was a two-part seminar on the |History of American Comedy” presented by Stephen Rosenfield, acclaimed author and founder of the American Comedy Institute in NYC.
We formed a new partnership with the Vanguard Theater Company, which allowed us to bring the arts to our clients through exclusive performances and talks. One highlight of this collaboration was, “Your Chance to Dance: An Intro to Broadway Dance.” Class participants enjoyed learning dance steps from the privacy of their own homes, and they even did a Chorus Line finale during the last class.
Another popular class this past Spring was “Tech Academy Boot Camp,” taught by a rising Junior at Yale University. It included 6 weeks of classes on topics such as Browser Skills, Online Privacy and Social Media.
One perk of the MILL’s virtual classroom is unlimited space. In the past we had strict limits on the number of participants, but our virtual classes allow us to welcome everyone and avoid the need for waiting lists. “Yoga for Healthy Aging” classes formally had a cap of 14 participants, and can now welcome more than 40 students each week.
Lifelong Montclair has been testing a hybrid programming model this summer, offering in-person classes while simultaneously livestreaming classes to those at home. This model has been well received. We expect to continue this hybrid format throughout the Fall of 2021, as we monitor the emergence of the Delta variant and breakthrough Covid cases. We continue to have conversations with our partners about when we’ll able to resume indoor programming.