Residents of assisted living homes can leave their boredom behind now that they can dance, learn art, and even virtually explore new locations, thanks to the School of Extended Learning Vitality Program.
City College’s School of Extended Learning officially began offering adult education classes last semester as part of their Vitality Program, which brings tuition-free classes to older adults living in independent, assisted, and memory-care facilities.
“What makes Vitality so special is that we send teachers who are trained in working with older adults straight to them,” said Jeanette Chian, the associate director of the School of Extended Learning. “So many of them are unable to get to our campuses so they wouldn’t have had a chance to participate in the classes if this program didn’t exist.”
The Vitality Program currently sends 13 teachers to 16 different facilities, with a total of 48 classes taught per week. There are five 75 minute classes offered on art, music, body and mind, traveling, and current events. Anyone aged 14 and older may attend, so the children and grandchildren of residents can take the class with their loved one.
“Some of the activity directors at the facilities have told us that after the residents attend a class, they are noticeably more alert and sociable for the following 24 hours,” Chian said.
Many of the adult children of the residents have told Chian that their visits with their parents, particularly the ones in memory care, went from being a difficult experience to a happy one.
“Even if the resident in memory care can’t recognize their own family member, they are visibly happier and more engaged with their surroundings during the classes,” she said.
Nancy Keller, an instructor for the Vitality Program, teaches the class titled “Travels and Explorations” at three different facilities a week. Her classes are structured around a pretend trip to a new location each week.
“This is what I get to do for fun,” she said, chuckling. “I get to go on a trip three times a week. We went to the Galapagos Islands last night, and tonight we are going to visit Bulgaria and Romania.”
Keller explained how she structures her classes, which typically fill up fast and can have up to 40 participants. She begins by having the class imagine boarding a plane or ship, and then shows a short film about the location “upon arrival.” Sometimes she even dresses up to match the theme of the chosen location. Following the film, she asks questions about what was shown to start a dialogue in the class.
Keller described how some students will share their experiences of visiting the locations in real life, when they were younger.
“This gets them engaged in their memories and it gets the other students excited to learn more about their fellow classmate and resident,” she said. “Often times it’s a topic of conversation amongst them for weeks following the class.”
The classes are tuition free because they are fully funded by the state of California under the funding category of adult education. City College also receives an apportionment for offering the Vitality classes, which totaled about $278,000 in the last year since the program started, according to Luz Reyes-Martin, executive director of public affairs and communications.
“My goal while teaching a class,” Keller said, “is to stimulate memory, wonder, connection with life, curiosity, and a sense of community.”