Members of the Queens section of the UFT Retired Teachers Chapter used to gather together for luncheon dine-arounds, day trips and theater matinees. They considered that social interaction vital to their well-being.
Queens retirees have found the best way to beat the isolation of the pandemic is to sign up for the UFT’s Si Beagle courses being held remotely on Zoom.
The classes “open right up and everybody’s there and if you have a problem there’s always someone to help you,” said a delighted Jackie Colgan.
Ray Taruskin, one of four Queens retiree coordinators — the others are Luzviminda (Luchie) Canlas, Laurie Kingsberry and Margaret Stahl — is the section’s technology expert, making sure every one of the 623 Queens retirees registered for courses is able to log on. He is on duty five days a week to sort out any problems that arise for the participants or for the 20 instructors in the 42 classes that include visual arts, performing arts, creative writing, languages, dance and exercise.
Taruskin is proud of the personalized attention the coordinators provide for each registered member. “We’re a happy family, separate yet united,” he said. And he is proud of the care with which instructors are chosen. “We make sure they’re the right people to work with us,” he said, “and that they are caring and understanding and know their audience.”
“Just phenomenal” is how Queens retiree Lorraine Baker-Simon describes her classes. “I look forward to my classes on Tuesday and Wednesday and wish I had signed up for more,” she said.
When the coordinators discovered Baker-Simon had been a culinary arts teacher, they signed her up to be the instructor of a new cooking class.
Everyone is looking forward to June, when there will be a two-hour celebration of all the work done citywide by Si Beagle students. It will include musical presentations, student poetry and prose readings, demonstrations of new skills, and a display of arts and crafts creations. Taruskin has made a montage of the work in progress in all the Queens classes to add to montages of the work from other city retiree sections that participate in the event.
Taruskin is sure Si Beagle will still offer remote classes even when the pandemic is over because of all the new possibilities Zoom offers.
For example, the winter weather used to be Queens retiree Doris Bodine’s worry, but not anymore. “When it snowed, I could still go to class,” she said. “I no longer have to worry about leaving early, finding a parking space and dragging all my supplies.”