ACE MV turns the Vineyard into a lifetime classroom
ACE MV, the Island's reinvigorated Adult and Community Education Program, offers residents a chance to shake off the winter doldrums and take up a new skill or interest. Winter comes to life beginning January 8 as ACE MV launches 36 new classes. From Acting for Adults to Blogging, and Conversational Spanish, the 2010 season promises a stimulating array of courses for personal enrichment, practical training, and credit for graduate and undergraduate degree-seekers.
Since taking the helm in July 2008, Director Lynn Ditchfield has put her 40-plus years of education experience to work. The result: a greatly expanded program, new and different courses, and a faculty that is as diverse as its subject matter.
"Because the program had literally disappeared over the years, I decided to start big rather than small. Now we're offering more choices than ever before," Ms. Ditchfield explains.
ACE provides classes in categories such as Arts and Communication, Business and Computers, Cooking and Home Creations, Education, Health, Fitness and Self-Help, History and Government, Island Living, Languages, Writing and Literature, Professional Development and General Education Development (GED). A new affiliation with Northeastern University, College of Professional Studies, School of Education, Professional Programs offers Island residents a chance to pursue graduate credit, undergraduate credit, and enrichment classes.
According to Ms. Ditchfield, the affiliation with Northeastern, as well as a pending relationship with Cape Cod Community College, gives Vineyard students an economical and time-saving alternative to traveling off-Island to pursue their studies.
Also new this winter: an International Volunteer Service Program, allowing Vineyard residents to visit Pacaya, Nicaragua, where fellow Islander Muriel Laverty has created a community school. Following orientation sessions and the option of taking relevant ACE courses in Spanish, history, and teacher training early this winter, volunteers will spend one to two weeks teaching English to Nicaraguan children in mid- to late February.
"There are so many Vineyarders involved in humanitarian projects around the world," Ms. Ditchfield says. "We hope to reach out to them to create future opportunities for other Island residents who want to combine travel with a hands-on volunteer experience in those communities."
ACE MV took shape in the 1970s following a Harvard University study that indicated both a need for continuing education and the resources to provide it on the Island. As volunteer directors came and went, the program waxed and waned. A new Advisory Council and Vision Committee were formed in the past two years, bringing renewed vigor to the program.
Volunteers like Sandra Grymes, also a lifelong educator, have teamed up with Ms. Ditchfield to lend their expertise and energy. In addition to serving on the Advisory Council and the Vision Committee, Ms. Grymes now coordinates the International Service Volunteer Program. "Education is an ongoing process," she says. "People will always have to re-tool to participate in a dynamic, competitive work environment. The Vineyard community deserves to have resources that provide local access to these opportunities. As the Island population ages, the demand for stimulating courses across a wide range of disciplines will increase."
Julie Hitchings, a newly retired teacher with 30 years of experience on the Island, enjoys ACE MV both as a volunteer and as a participant. She serves as an Advisory Board member, edits the course catalog, and writes the organization's newsletter. In addition, she recently completed a Spanish class and plans to travel to Nicaragua in February through the volunteer program.
"Winters are bleak and can get monotonous," Ms. Hitchings says. "ACE MV brings stimulation, a chance to learn new skills and meet new people. Lynn has done a great job creating a variety of learning opportunities for all ages and cultures."
While she is excited about the wealth of choices now available, Ms. Ditchfield envisions a far more ambitious role for ACE MV in the community. "I'd love to see a campus environment here - a complex including the high school, YMCA, Featherstone, Martha's Vineyard Community Services, senior living, and a real physical presence for ongoing adult education."
Focusing the efforts of 20 to 25 volunteers, she is striving to blend the Island's cultures, age groups, and interests to create what she calls a "community of learners." Working in partnership with the public schools and more than 30 community organizations, Ms. Ditchfield hopes that ACE MV will eventually become community-supported and able to fund a fully paid director, assistant director, and office facilities. Working 12-hour days nearly 7 days a week, she donates most of her time to the organization.
Lorena Ciasco, 33, an Edgartown resident, is an enthusiastic proponent of the program. A native of Ecuador who moved to the Vineyard four years ago, she has completed courses in English, public speaking, and salsa dancing. "I teach in the Head Start program at Martha's Vineyard Community Services," she explains. "I had a hard time with English grammar - there are so many exceptions to rules with languages - but the teachers are wonderful and have given me so much more confidence with speaking and writing." She plans to repeat the public speaking course and says she's looking forward to trying her hand at acting in the adult theater class offered this winter.
ACE MV classes are a minimum of five weeks and are offered at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School; four are offered for the first time at the Charter School for convenience to up-Island residents. Catalogs and flyers are available at all Island schools and libraries as well as online at acemv.org. In-person registration will be held in the high school lobby from 5:30 to 7 pm on Tuesday, Jan. 6 and on Wednesday, Jan. 7. Early registration online is encouraged. For more information, contact Lynn Ditchfield at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a voice message at 508-693-1033, ext. 240.
Karla Araujo is a frequent contributor to The Times.