ACE grows up
The fall session of Adult and Community Education on Martha's Vineyard (ACE MV) begins on October 5, featuring a catalogue of classes that includes Birding, Guitar, Mexican Cooking, Basic Knots, Italian, Capoiera, Red Cross training, among many more. Perhaps the most exciting development for ACE MV is that this year, students attending three of their classes - World Religions Today, Irish History, and Psychology: Body, Mind, and Meaning - can receive college credit through Northeastern University at a significantly reduced tuition than it would be at Northeastern's Boston campus.
"This is just the beginning," says Lynn Ditchfield, ACE MV's director. "I hope this can lead to both undergraduate and graduate degree programs through Northeastern, but we will need to see how this first step works and if the community embraces the offering."
Ms. Ditchfield started working on getting accreditation for the program last year. "We investigated programs with a variety of reliable institutions that could serve the broad educational needs we had identified from surveys and experience," she says.
Northeastern University's College of Professional Studies was willing to give credit for courses here on three levels, for graduate credit, undergraduate credit, and enrichment. The classes require a minimum of 10 undergraduate and/or graduate students to run.
ACE MV is part of a tradition of adult education on the Vineyard that began in the 1970s. At that time, a study by Harvard University determined that the Island had a community need for educational development, and also had excellent resources for fulfilling that need.
Many things have changed since that study was conducted: the Island's population has grown and bus tickets to Boston have gotten more expensive, while the Internet has brought a plethora of online degree programs, making college study on the Island possible for many people. Still, having a live instructor and interacting with other students offers a kind of community support unavailable to those who toil alone at their computers.
Ms. Ditchfield points out that it is difficult and costly for both students and instructors to commute off-Island to teach and study, even though many people have done so over the years.
Janet Holladay, who is offering the course on World Religions at ACE MV this fall, commuted to Harvard over nearly two decades to complete her two master's degrees. The Island community offered her emotional and practical support as she continued her studies through her struggle with cancer, in addition to the usual ups and downs of life. She now looks forward to being able to give something back through teaching her course this fall.
"They sent me up there to do well, and to bring back what I learned," Ms. Holladay says. Going off-Island to study was important to her not only because of the credentials, but also because: "There's something about having a real community of people who are reading and writing and thinking about big things."
ACE provides a way of building that kind of intellectual community on the Vineyard, and hopes to expand its offerings in areas that will be of practical use to Islanders. Ms. Ditchfield notes that business and management skills are particularly needed, and would like to offer more courses in those areas. This past July, ACE MV initiated discussions with Cape Cod Community College (CCCC) about providing some training and associate degree courses on the Island.
"Thanks to work by Ann Palches, the early childhood coordinator, our early childhood educators, are working on a program with CCCC now," says Ms. Ditchfield. "ACE hopes to facilitate and broaden this relationship."
A popular Spanish teacher at the regional high school for 23 years, Ms. Ditchfield is particularly interested in providing instruction in languages other than English. ACE MV's website includes a page which lists all of its courses in Portuguese.
"We have had a very positive response from members of the Brazilian community and hope to see that increase," she says. "Three of our classes are taught by Brazilian instructors (Understanding Capoeira, Conversational Portuguese, and Reiki). We also have other instructors who are fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, German, and other languages. Our classes are taught in English, but we would like to consciously open all classes to as many people of the community as possible, and having the choice to ask an instructor questions in your native language is a plus. This is why we have identified bilingual and multilingual instructors. It is a hope that at some point we can have a few bilingual courses (other than Portuguese language instruction), so that people learning the language can have an opportunity to use it with native speakers."
Ms. Ditchfield continued, "I really believe that community education works. These courses get people together, out of the house, and exchanging ideas."
The instructors and organizers are enthusiastic about the program's future. Peg Thayer, who will be teaching the accredited psychology course, says that she thinks it will take time to figure out what courses people most want to take here. "My hope is that we'll eventually be able to offer bachelor of science completion and masters' programs," she says.
And there is a lot being offered in the non-credit classes, and the important thing is to continue learning. As Ms. Holladay says: "Learning is good for your health. It can keep you comfortable and lively."
ACE MV information at acemv.org, or 508-693-1033, ext. 240. Registration is open through October 1.
Amelia Smith is a freelance writer living in West Tisbury.