At Emeritus College in Santa Monica, seniors can engage their minds and bodies with free classes in subjects such as sculpture, calligraphy, art appreciation, finance, law, music, fitness, literature and computer studies, among many others.

“We want to debunk the myth that older adults lose their skills — in fact, they may gain new skills,” says Maggie Hall, Emeritus College associate dean.

Begun in 1975, Emeritus, a college for seniors, is a program of Santa Monica College.

Emeritus offers about 150 different classes during the day at 20 locations, and enrolls about 2,900 students each semester, according to Hall.

Students are 65 and older, but some classes offer specialized study for those who have had a stroke and brain damage, and these are available to those under 65 as well. One such student is 23 years old.

Hall says adult education is very different than credit classes at other colleges where younger students want to transfer to a four-year college or get a job.

Hall says older adults also want to move on and transition, but their goals are different.

At Emeritus the senior’s mind is stimulated, they stay connected to others and to the world, they create art and they can move.

At Emeritus there are no grades or tests and the class times are shorter, allowing more comfort for those with osteoarthritis who can’t sit for too long, Hall says.

She adds that many of the classes present a more in-depth study than a community college because students often bring their experiences with them.

While a community college focuses on getting the material assimilated and moving on, students at Emeritus may have visited the Prado in Madrid, or other museums being discussed, and the seniors bring that view to the class, allowing for discussions on a deeper level.

Since October 2003, Emeritus has been at its new space at 1227 Second St. in Santa Monica.

The school, funded by state taxes, has experienced budget cuts in recent years and has had to eliminate about 30 percent of the program, Hall said.

The winter of 2003 saw program cuts of ten percent and by winter 2004 another 20 percent of the program was eliminated.

All classes at Emeritus take the needs of seniors into account.

“You won’t exercise someone 60 years old in the same way as an 80-year-old,” Hall says.

As a result, there is a wide variety of skill levels in the exercise classes.

The school has classes for health maintenance and improvement, offering diverse conditioning classes, such as qi gong, yoga and tai chi chuan.

Hall says students don’t have to subscribe to the spiritual aspects of these classes but the breathing and stretching components are important and students can still embrace the calming effects.

Exercise to maintain the body and bone density remains critical to healthy aging, according to Hall. She adds that falling represents a serious problem for an older person and good balance can help prevent a fall.

Hall suggests tai chi chuan as an excellent exercise to maintain and improve balance.

The school’s “Fall Prevention” class helps students regain balance to keep them from falling and also teaches participants how to fall in a way that minimizes damage to the body.

Emeritus also offers a group speech class for post-stroke attendees. After a stroke and therapy, students can take the class, which provides a “safe” atmosphere to practice their speech.

In November, Emeritus held an exhibit of artwork by students at the College Gallery, a professional-looking space at the new facility on Second Street. To keep a high standard for the gallery exhibit, professional lighting was used and the college hired a professional gallery director.

Due to budget cuts, Hall says the college doesn’t have the staff to present another show until May, when Older Adults Month will be recognized.

Besides enhancing skills or learning new skills, Emeritus offers seniors a way to make new friends.

“Many want to go to class because they want to see ‘so and so’,” Hall says. “The classes keep seniors stimulated enough to stay a part of life and the classes prevent malaise from setting in.

“Many seniors have lost their peer group and they have no one to share their history. Emeritus can give them that.”

Hall adds that some students have even formed groups to continue going out at night.

Hall says there’s a direct connection between health and staying active and involved, and that by participating in the many classes available at Emeritus seniors can stay much healthier.

Information, (310) 434-4306 or www.smc.edu/emeritus

Julie Kirst can be reached at jkmailtalk@yahoo.com

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