By Tim Leeds
Scores of people, ranging from students to people well past retirement, are gathering every week in Havre to be educated. They are being educated in a variety of fields, some of which people might think have nothing to do with a classroom.
The classes are in a program that has been offered in Havre for decades, and shows no sign of slowing down - Havre Public Schools Community Education.
"It allows people to take things that interest them," said Havre Middle School special education teacher Karen Nave.
Nave has been teaching sign language in Community Education off and on for 25 years, the last stint for about 12 years.
She said Community Education, which she occasionally takes classes from herself, is a great opportunity for people in the area.
"People can pursue things they normally wouldn't," she said. "It's a nonthreatening, relaxed way to pursue things."
The winter session - the classes are divided into fall, winter and spring sessions each school year - is winding down, with the spring session scheduled to start in April.
Some of the more popular classes are presigning students for the next session, although the official registration is in early April.
Pam Ehlert and Kris Boyer are two of the students in Jim Gabriel's class that uses kickboxing as an exercise technique. They said they both joined it for about the same reason.
"Just because it sounded like fun," Ehlert said.
"Something different," Boyer added.
Gabriel said he has enjoyed teaching the class, which is in its first year, and may teach it again after he is done coaching track at Havre High School this spring.
"It's fun. I like doing this kind of stuff," he said.
Boyer said she's glad she is taking the class, which is a low-impact exercise program focusing on cardiovascular and respiratory work and is similar to the Tae Bo program developed by Billy Blanks.
"It hurts, but it's fun. It's worth it," she said. Ehlert said she has taken other classes in the Community Education program, and checks what classes are being offered each session.
"I did belly dancing last spring. It was fun," she said.
Judy Handstede, the Community Education coordinator, said the kinds of classes offered may vary with the season, while others, like exercise classes and computer classes, are generally offered every session.
Some instructors have worked in the program for many years. Others work only a few sessions because they move or have other obligations. But most continue to teach for several years at least, she said.
"It's really hard to find people. We're always looking for ideas for classes, for teachers," she added.
The classes for the spring session aren't all in place yet, but will be by April. Handstede said the program will start advertising the classes on April 2, and registration will be spliced around the Easter holiday. Registration is set for April 5-8 and on April 13.
Some of the classes are free, but most single-session classes cost $6, and the longer classes, which run for up to about six weeks, are generally $18.
The program consistently offers 55 to 65 classes, with about 650 to 850 people enrolled each session. The session under way has 671 adults and 96 students in 66 classes.
Handstede said the spring session is usually smaller, "because people want to get out more," she said.
Classes in the spring session take advantage of the outdoors and usually include fly fishing, educational hikes through the Bear Paw Mountains, and American Indian history that includes traveling to outdoor locations.
Other spring classes usually include how to decide the value of items to be sold in garage sales and antique sales, and classes on interior decorating like painting and wallpapering.
Some favorites are offered every session, like the strength-training classes taught by Connie Peterson since 1984 and by Annmarie Robinson since about 1990.
Some of the students have been there as long or longer.
"I've been through three instructors. That's pretty good," said Randy Robinson, the husband of Annmarie Robinson, who always signs up for a strength-training class.
Handstede said many of the other instructors have been with the program for years, including Delores Ball, who teaches yoga, Julie Groven and Francine Brady, who teach underwater aerobics, and Ramona Lohse, Vicky Campbell and Becky Ross, who teach art classes.
The classes offered each session cover many areas. Last spring they included yoga, acupuncture, a tour of Bear Paw Battlefield in Blaine County, oil painting, pastels and watercolor art, 11 computer classes, relaxation therapy, belly dancing and jitterbugging, doing home electrical repairs, clearing the clutter in a home, yard care and tree care, locating stars and constellations, and arranging flowers.
The session under way includes an offering about the dangers of methamphetamine labs, as well as classes on budgeting, genealogy, planning a cruise, cooking Mexican food, making a hanging bunny with decorative Easter eggs, plus nine computer classes and three digital camera classes, a skiing class at the ski bowl in the Bear Paw Mountains, and fly tying.
People in the classes say one of the prime attractions is that they are fun, including the camaraderie that develops between classmates.
Nave said she closes out her sign language class every session with a dinner at the Duck Inn. None of the students can speak after they enter the door.
"It's a kick in the pants," she said.