Never too old to learn
by The Press and Standard | March 15, 2019 5:00 am
Last Updated: March 13, 2019 at 9:20 am
Don’t look for Patricia Lewis on the couch. You stand a much better chance of finding the Walterboro resident walking the halls or filling a classroom seat at USC-Salkehatchie.
Decades ago, Lewis graduated from DePaul University in Chicago armed with a degree that paved the way to a career as a public school gym teacher. Later, she went back to college to complete the coursework to be a special education teacher.
Since August she has been back in the classroom, enrolled at USC-Salkehatchie and working her way towards a degree in accounting that will allow her to become a certified public accountant.
She is enrolled at USC-Salkehatchie under the state’s On Your Time program that allows those over 60 years of age to take university courses for free.
She began her time at USC-Salkehatchie slowly, “testing the waters, taking smaller bites.
“I’ve had really good counselors put me into a lot of really different classes that have been very interesting and make my brain think. It has been very interesting. What I have found is that as a senior, I can go into other topics and look at those other topics with a more worldly view than some of these kids have,” Lewis said.
“I really admire the kids — they are raising children, working. It is tough going to school. I take my hat off to them,” she added.
Now she is taking three academic classes and two personal enrichment classes. “I encourage seniors to take the courses because it is a way for us to keep our brains active and our bodies active,” Lewis said.
Her personal enrichment classes are in yoga and piano.
“Yoga helping my body to be stronger so that I can walk the halls and get to class on time and keep myself healthy,” Lewis said.
“Piano is so exciting,” she added. Lewis has a piano in her living room, but she did not play it often and “I had gotten so rusty. When they offered piano, I was ecstatic because piano is a way to the soul, music is a way to the soul,” Lewis said.
She rounds out her course load with classes in marketing, calculus and a class she calls “old English.”
Lewis said calculus is her favorite class because it was the most challenging. “I started it last semester in the fall. We got a month into it and I still didn’t not know what he (Dr. Wei-Kai Lai) was saying,” Lewis said. Dr. Lai would state some mathematics rule and she was “a deer in the headlights.” She would hear the rule and wonder “where did that come from, what does it mean?”
“I grew up in the age where multiplication was multiplication, subtraction was subtraction.”
Lewis dropped the course. She let negative thoughts intrude, but they didn’t stay long. She pushed “I can’t do that, I am too old” out of her mind, replacing those thoughts with “I am going to understand this. I will comprehend this calculus and be able to get through this class.” Then she went looking for help.
“Dr. Lai was able to take me under his wing and be my tutor for three or four months. It was wonderful because then I had the foundation to come back in January.
“Seniors do not have to be stuck in, ‘Well, I didn’t get it when I was a kid, I am not going to get it today’, Lewis said. “You can learn something new. I am not an exception, we can all do it.”
Calculus became her favorite class because of what she overcame, but that doesn’t mean that she is not enjoying marketing and old English.
She said that her experience in marketing offers a look at senior learning from a different prospective.
Her instructor David Lee Cherry Sr. is a very good teacher who brings practical applications of marketing to the students to dissect. Her fellow students look at the concepts discussed in class “through their youthful eyes,” Lewis said. “I refer back to something that I knew back in the Stone Age.
“That is the value of having seniors in the room,” she said. But, she added, seniors need to verbalize their experience: “talk, participate.”
Her old English class, Lewis said, is as much history as English. It looks at the works of William Shakespeare and Milton in the context of their place in time. “It brings out so many angles of how the literature was written in terms of the emotional and cultural changes of that time.
“The same thing is going on now,” Lewis said.
Lewis said she enjoys her time at USC-Salkehatchie. “I like the smaller classes. It is a lot of fun get to know my fellow classmates — they are very respectful, very tolerent of my booboos.”
Senior education is the way to go, Lewis said, “if you want life to be exciting and full of the vim and vigor that you still have.” Getting into the classroom with younger students enables seniors to recognize that the experience amassed in life is a treasure.
“If you have something to offer these kids,” she said, “give it away.”
How you do it
There are two courses on USC-Salkehatchie’s spring mini-session that fall into Patricia Lewis’ “testing the water, taking small bites” concept of participating in On Your Time, the state program that allows those South Carolina residents to take courses for free.
The mini-session has a limited number of calls, but Associate Dean of Student Services Jane Brewer said two of them give On Your Time participants a taste of senior learning.
There is a community yoga class that allows seniors to gently become acquainted with the program and a beginning golf class on the mini-session’s curriculum.
The deadline for enrolling in the mini-session is March 15, but the first classes for yoga and golf are set to both begin on March 20.
Brewer said that those interested in the On Your Time program can stop in the registrar’s office a few minutes before the start of those classes and take a short enrollment application.
To join the On Your Time senior learning program, you have to be 60 or older and a South Carolina resident. The program is not open to those residents who are still employed full-time. If you are working part-time, you can still participate, Brewer said, but you will need to provide a statement from your employer showing your hours.
Brewer also said that showing the registrar your South Carolina driver’s license is proof of both the age and residency requirements.
That proof and a $10 fee will allow you to audit the classes for free. If, like Lewis, you want to take the course for college credit, you have to pay the regular registration fee, which is higher.