- The Washington Times - Monday, December 17, 2018



Check this out — an education program worthy of replication from the Lone Star State.

School vouchers have never received a rousing sis boom bah! from anti-choice movers and shakers, who prefer to wave pompoms on behalf of traditional schooling.

Well, Janet Fein’s situation gives pause to such cheerleading.

Miss Janet is long retired from her secretarial gigs and now is 84 years young. Like many Americans her age, she could be a slouchy couch potato. But not Miss Janet.

She followed her heart’s dream and enrolled in classes at the University of Texas at Dallas, where this week she graduates with a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

Rah rah!

Miss Janet is a member of the 1 percent club — the percentage of U.S. college students who are 65 and older. All told, an estimated 67,000 seniors are among the country’s 20 million college students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Hers is the type of story that proves innovation is key to teaching and learning.

Miss Janet, you see, resides in a senior-living facility, can no longer drive, needs a walker and carries oxygen. One of her life lessons is she enjoys reading and writing, and has been plugging away at her degree.

“I didn’t have anything to do in retirement and I didn’t think that playing bingo was up to my speed,” she told The Associated Press.

Another driving force is the UTHealth Consortium on Aging at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, where about 2,000 people last year took advantage of the state’s program that allows seniors to take up to six credit hours for free at public universities. Repeat: They can take classes for f-r-e-e.

In anti-choice parlance, that means a voucher.

Notice, too, the program isn’t the brainchild of educrats connected to laptops in Washington or even partisan union-bred lobbyists.

The program’s operative words are health and aging.

There’s a lot of cross-generational teaching and learning that’s afoot, as well.

Said Tracy Glass, 40, a classmate of Miss Janet‘s, “who sat right next to her and over the course of the semester” and appreciated that Miss Janet’s firsthand memories of world events enlivened discussions.

There’s Carol Cirulli Lanham, a senior lecturer in sociology, who said: “She would speak up a lot in class and I think that it just made for a more interesting class because she literally remembered some of the times we were talking about.”

There’s also Renee Brown, one of Miss Janet’s caregivers, who, herself 53, plans to enroll become a licensed vocational nurse. She described Miss Janet as one of her biggest inspirations and cheerleaders.

Miss Janet is years away from the Bronx, New York, where her dream was to graduate from high school and get a job. Well, she did both, graduating at 16 and getting a job with a dress manufacturer. She married, became a stay-at-home mom for nearly two decades with five kids, worked other jobs and later became a secretary at an orthopedic hospital in Dallas. Before retiring at age 77 in 2012, she worked toward an associate degree, which she earned in 1995.

Miss Janet said she chose sociology because it she considered it a “substantial” major and, the simple math of aging + retirement didn’t quite suit her.

Besides, just because seniors have mobility problems, doesn’t mean they should be passive and sedentary.

Coast to coast, politicians are pondering how to lessen the tuition burden on millennials and their parents. The Trump administration has gone so far as to propose helping to wipe out tuition debt for students who attended failed for-profit colleges. Also, most non-innovative brain trusts are touting the same pathway: Free community college.

That Texas is tying an innovative health program for the aging to an educational program for all age groups could be a game changer.

For sure, the smarts and wisdom of the older generations are what’s being brushed aside to placate the cry baby generation, who whine if it’s too cold and throw tantrums if it’s too hot.

Miss Janet could pass along a personal experience in those times, too.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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