Never too late to learn
"There is something about education that brings us together and makes us higher quality people," says Lynn Ditchfield, director of Adult and Community Education of Martha's Vineyard (ACE Martha's Vineyard), the adult learning program set to launch October 21 at the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School.
Ms. Ditchfield has come to this belief through personal experience - she is a recently retired teacher with 38 years of experience, and holds two masters degrees in education. "Community education has been a passion of mine for a long time," she says. "It improves the quality of our lives because it broadens our lives and our perspective."
Believing deeply that education has the power to transform the lives of people of all ages, Ms. Ditchfield has committed her voice and energy to the formation of ACE. "Adult education on Martha's Vineyard is a huge need," she says. "The time is more than right. People need the skills right now, but it is too expensive to do a lot of off-Island training."
ACE Martha's Vineyard has enlisted nearly a dozen Vineyard entities to help fulfill its mission of providing affordable educational opportunities by offering classes for enrichment, practical training, and life-long learning. Among the organizations are Community Services, Aquinnah Cultural Center, Martha's Vineyard Public Schools, Wampanoag Tribal Council, Felix Neck, YMCA, and Featherstone Center for the Arts.
Registration is now taking place online, and will be held in person at the high school on Tuesday, Oct. 14, and Wednesday, Oct. 15. Course costs vary, from $5 to attend a lecture, to $35 for a single workshop seminar, to $125 for five-session classes that run between the week of October 20 and early December. The stated mission of ACE Martha's Vineyard is to offer classes that bridge generations and cultures to improve the quality of life for all members of the Martha's Vineyard community by drawing upon the vast population of educators, individuals who want to share their expertise and knowledge with Martha's Vineyard's residents. One look at the course offerings on the ACE website (acemv.org), demonstrates this point. There are classes in everything from Shakespeare to computers, bioethics to salsa dancing, and quilting to Native American culture. Singer/songwriter Willy Mason will teach music composition, author Cynthia Riggs will teach you how to sell your book.
Jannette Vanderhoop, a Wampanoag tribal member and teacher who serves on the ACE advisory board, is offering a five-week course on Native America that she hopes will help "deconstruct the stereotypes people have about Native societies." As program coordinator for the Aquinnah Culture Center, she sees this class as an extension of the work she does daily for the tribe in reaching out to the community.
Photos by Susan Safford
"It is an opportunity," Ms. Vanderhoop says, "to reach people interested in learning as opposed to what they can get in one day visiting the center."
A basic theme of ACE Martha's Vineyard is collaborative outreach. "We are a unique Island," Ms. Ditchfield stated. "We have unique talents that are waiting to be shared and coordinated."
In a way, ACE Martha's Vineyard is similar to a community college that taps local institutions for mutual benefit and, in the words of Suzan Bellincampi, director of Felix Neck and advisory board member of ACE, "makes us stronger." She continues, "This gives organizations a new audience and allows us to go more in depth than a three-hour class could." Ms. Bellincampi sees an opportunity for Felix Neck to "bring science and Island natural history to the table."
With enthusiasm, Ms. Ditchfield lists the course offerings. "I want to take every class," she says. "We have fabulous elders who are very experienced here and we have these vibrant young people."
But enthusiasm alone won't make a program like this successful, and neither will sheer need. "The only way to sustain it is to do it collaboratively," Ms. Ditchfield says. "That's what we are working towards.
"It is important to ask what education means, and what education means to me is stimulating, revitalizing, creative, and interesting enrichment programs, practical training and life-long learning. It is not just training...it has a life-enhancing component to it."
Broadening one's horizons is essential to human life, Ms. Ditchfield adds, and hopefully that will lure many out for an evening or two a week this fall and into the future.
ACE Martha's Vineyard Course Registration, Oct. 14 and 15, 5:30-7:30 pm, Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, Oak Bluffs. For more information regarding courses, faculty or to register for classes, call Lynn Ditchfield at 508-693-1033, ext. 240, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.acemv.org.
Justen Ahren is a poet and writer who lives in Tisbury.