The Retired Teachers Chapter’s Queens section continues to develop the rich selection of remote classes it created during the pandemic — from baking and guitar to line dancing — and is taking its use of technology to a new level in the process.
The four coordinators are all retired teachers: Three retired from the UFT Teacher Center, and the fourth, Raymond Taruskin, is a technology enthusiast who taught high school science.
With help from Taruskin, they all had the technology skills to lead the way in the transition to remote learning during the pandemic. They shared their knowledge with fellow section coordinators, creating a Zoom PowerPoint and templates. Taruskin also spent many evening and weekend hours helping members learn to use FaceTime and Zoom.
In the fall, the Queens section will use cameras and iPhones in drawing/sketching, pastel and watercolor classes, so retirees joining from home will be able to see their instructor’s and classmates’ artwork, and they will be able to show theirs.
“We’re providing the class at home and the in-person people with the same experience,” Taruskin said.
It helps that the four coordinators work closely together and are a strong team, said coordinator Maryan Gaughan.
The section also is redoubling its efforts to draw members back to in-person classes. Retirees in Queens and across the country flocked to the 44 online Si Beagle Learning Center courses that the section offered this spring, but low enrollment reduced the 14 in-person classes the section planned to offer to six.
The section is hoping for higher numbers in the fall when, in addition to stained glass and other popular courses, it will launch a sewing class. “We will try again,” said Luzviminda “Luchie” Canlas, a section coordinator who also teaches paper quilling — the coiling and shaping of narrow paper strips to create a design.
The coordinators have worked to make the Si Beagle program more inclusive and diverse, in terms of both course offerings and members’ ethnic backgrounds and ages. Thirty-five percent of Queens RTC members have been retired for less than five years, 26% for five to 10 years, 28% for 10 to 20 years, and 10% for more than 20 years.
The classes serve as a safety net of sorts. If a retiree misses or drops a class, “this program allows us to check in on our colleagues to make sure they’re safe and well,” said Laurie Kingsberry-Ford, one of the section coordinators.
All four coordinators are grateful to serve and appreciate how the Si Beagle program keeps members engaged and helps them thrive.
“I think these classes keep our members alive,” Taruskin said.