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Continuing Education: Open Enrollment in Life 

click to enlarge Students watch Darren Fisher's demonstration of a foldforming technique at the Center for Metal Arts in Florida.
  • Students watch Darren Fisher's demonstration of a foldforming technique at the Center for Metal Arts in Florida.

Life inevitably offers us continuing education, be it a whole new discipline to conquer, a song that leads us into a previously unappreciated genre, or "Dang, sleeping on the ground is a lot tougher at 47 than it was at 19." You're enrolled whether you like it or not; you may as well enjoy the grownup perk of choosing your own core curriculum.

Ghandi's advice to "learn as though you were to live forever" has been endorsed by cutting-edge research indicating that lifelong cognitive activity inhibits the formation of beta-amyloids, protein fibers that have been implicated as a cause of Alzheimer's. Just as with physical fitness, using it is the best defense against losing it.

Amy Loewenhaar-Blauweiss half jokingly refers to herself as the "poster child" for continuing education. "I had my first college-level experience after age 30," she says. "I had been designing curriculum, training teachers, and teaching English as a second language at several schools in New York City, and no one had bothered to ask what my degrees were. The powers-that-be from Albany came down to observe and asked if I'd come up to Albany and train their own trainers. But they wanted to know where I'd gone to school. When they found out I was essentially a high school dropout, they said I'd have to be fired! We brokered a deal where the school was able to retain me with the caveat that I enroll in college immediately. That was exactly 20 years ago, and I've been in school in one form or another ever since."

Loewenhaar-Blauweiss completed undergraduate studies and two master's degrees at the New School for Social Research, and went on to complete a double doctorate in psych and philosophy at the Professional School of Psychology. Currently, she's enrolled in courses to become certified as an alcohol and substance abuse counselor. "Every course of study you embark upon fills you out more as a person and makes your tool kit that much more useful," she says. Today, she teaches Language and Thinking intensives to incoming Bard College students and offers women's transformational writing workshops held at Kingston's Outdated Café using related techniques; a writing prompt for the adult class might reference St. Augustine's Confessions, a poem by Rilke, and Step Four of the Twelve Steps. "What can seem frighteningly highbrow becomes accessible with just a tiny little portal," she says.

Return to the Source
And that's just one dish on an eclectic menu of continuing education choices available to residents of the Hudson Valley. Intrigued by sustainability, health, higher consciousness, and the link between body and mind? Check out the hundreds of courses offered at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, where Deepak Chopra was teaching before he became worldwide news. New offerings there include Mindfulness and Education and Veterans, Trauma, and Treatment.

"We often find that someone may have tried something as a kid—let's say, they loved art but did not go on to study for an MFA, so the art falls away and they realize they miss it," says Omega's manager of external communications, Chrissa Pullicino. "Omega is a great place to dabble and try things on, to continue the process of lifelong learning outside of how you define professional success, although a lot of our offerings can enhance career pathways, too. People come when they're at a crossroad; they want to align ethics and action, they're seeking deeper meaning and purpose."

If this sounds like you, don't let tuition worries hold you back. "We realize Omega can be costly, and we're working on ways to make it accessible," says Pullicino. "We have tiered pricing—pay what you can afford, with no questions asked—and we're always expanding our free and low-cost digital offerings through E-Omega." Seasonal staffers get room and board and access to some 2,000 staff classes.

Affordable and cutting-edge adult learning is also available through SUNY Ulster's Department of Continuing and Professional Education. Enrollment has stayed strong in life-enhancing classes such as yoga, art, and cooking, and Associate Dean Christopher Marx says career enhancers in fields like sustainable building and clean energy are well enrolled too. "People say, 'Where are the green jobs?' We're seeing the companies that are actually building them. Local professionals and businesses are embracing this as an area they see as important and vital. Those studies got off to a great start, then they declined and there was a plateau, but now it's booming again. And more than once we've had a student looking for employment end up sitting next to a business owner. It's great synergy."

Everywhere the Signs
Ever wish you were bilingual? Consider American Sign Language, spoken by over two million people in the US, currently the fourth most studied language at colleges and universities. Learning any new language is the cognitive equivalent of a superfood; learning to sign adds a spatial dimension, creates opportunities for helping the hearing-impaired, and opens up your conversational options in situations that require silence or are too loud for comfortable conversation. The Signing Studio is now offering classes in the Hudson Valley ranging from basic through advanced to Mommy and Me, at MaMa in Stone Ridge, so that you and your baby can continue your education together.

Want to get hands-on with art? Metalwork, from delicate jewelry crafting to blacksmithing, is taught at all levels from raw beginner to master classes at the Center for Metal Arts in the Village of Florida. If you prefer softer media, FiberFlame in Rhinebeck and Saugerties offers classes in painting, sculpture, and the popular Music Together family program, as well as their signature specialty of fiber arts. The Rosendale School of Arts is offering watercolor, glass painting, collage, and photo documentary courses this fall. The Woodstock Guild folks will instruct you in ceramics, jewelry making, voice, and writing at their historic Byrdcliffe Colony digs. The Woodstock School of Art offers classes in multiple disciplines on a site used for art instruction since 1906. And these are but a few of the options out there; no matter where you are in the Hudson Valley, you probably can't swing a cat without it landing among folks busy expanding their artistic chops.

Lifelong Learning No Longer the Exception
Getting physical about your continuing education keeps your body limber along with your mind. Yoga and movement classes are popular throughout the region; pick your flavor, there's a teacher near you. Too tame? The Rosendale-based Alpine Endeavors will get you up to speed on rock climbing, ice climbing, alpine climbing, and mountaineering. Horseback riding, from beginner skills on up to jumping and dressage, is also widely and well taught.

Almost any adult learning could be considered spiritually beneficial. Those specifically seeking spiritual insight will find retreats and beginner-level classes in meditation and Buddhism at the area's plentiful monasteries, like Zen Mountain Monastery in Mount Tremper. Seekers traveling a Christian path can find much to contemplate at places like Linwood Spiritual Center in Rhinebeck, Mariandale in Ossining, and Mount Alvernia in Wappingers Falls.

When it comes to continuing your education, you really can't lose. If current trends continue, those who consider their schooling complete in their late teens or early 20s may one day soon be the exceptions, and seekers of new learning the rule. This wheel's on fire.

And it's road-worthy. A program begun by a group of retired educators at the New School in the early 1960s spread to places like Harvard and Duke, and in the early '80s, collaboration began with the also swiftly growing travel-based Elderhostel program. With the realization of potential came a name change to Lifelong Learning Institutes; today, the rechristened Road Scholar organization offers literally hundreds of educational travel opportunities, from the Hudson Valley to Africa and Antartica.

Continuing ed doesn't just refurnish your cranium, it expands your social world with like-minded company, all without standardized testing and cafeteria food. So dip a toe. You may, like Loewenhaar-Blauweiss, find yourself diving in and swimming farther than you ever thought you could.

RESOURCES
Alpine Endeavors Alpineendeavors.com
Center for Metal Arts Centerformetalarts.com
Fiber Flame Fiberflamestudio.com
Linwood Spiritual Center Linwoodspiritual.org
Mount Alvernia Mtalvernia.org
Omega Institute Eomega.org
Signing Studio Signingstudio.com
SUNY Ulster Continuing Education Sunyulster.edu/continuing_education
Woodstock Guild Woodstockguild.org
Woodstock School of Art Woodstockschoolofart.org
Zen Mountain Monastery Zmm.mro.org

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