Jan. 19, 2005 - As it turns out, you can teach an old dog how to use a computer.

At age 80, Arthur Aschbrenner knows his way around a Macintosh.

"Almost just anything you want to do you can find on the computer," said the longtime Tucsonan, "One of my granddaughters wants to get her passport, so I found out how to get the passport and I downloaded all the forms and gave those to her."

Aschbrenner is such an enthusiast, he owns two home computers. After years of classes through Catalina Foothills Community Schools, he also knows how to make them work for him.

"I use it for learning and I use it for sending e-mails and I use it for looking up information, all sorts of information. There's just everything on the computer," he said.

Aschbrenner said he has been taking Community Schools computer classes for at least four years and has been pleased with the results.

His ever-increasing computer skills aside, Aschbrenner is an ideal student.

"We've decided that our target audience should be parents that have (grown) children," said Michelle Schwitzky, educational extension program director for the Community Schools program. "Really, parents with kids in the district are probably too busy."

Community Schools is part of Catalina Foothills School District, though it does not receive funding from the district. Community Schools offers fee-based classes to the public in late fall and winter and spring, which are available to people regardless of whether they live inside the district boundaries.

The fee money is used to pay instructors and material costs, reimburse the school for use of its facilities, occasional donations to the district such as a carpet shampooer, and fund a portion of the salaries of the administrators who preside over the program, although it does not have any full-time employees.

According to Schwitzky, the concept of offering community courses dates back to when Catalina Foothills High School was built in 1993. The district, which had a large percentage of voters who did not have school-aged children, had to sell the community on the idea of building a high school, she said.

"Part of the agreement was that this would be a community center," she said. "They can come and use the computers and dance room and classrooms so they see where their bond money goes."

Some 120 people signed up for classes in the fall and a similar number are anticipated for the coming term, said Missy King, Community Schools adult coordinator. Another 200 typically sign up for credit and non-credit courses offered by Northern Arizona University and Pima Community College, which also are offered on district property.

The number of classes has increased through the years but the concept has always been the same, Schwitzky said: "It's your campus, too."

As the program has developed, its directors have learned some valuable lessons.

€ Don't start classes when school starts in August.

"We've pretty much stopped offering classes until October because we were canceling so many," Schwitzky said. "That works not for just winter visitors but people who live here year-round. They get their kids settled (into the school year) and send them back to college" and then the parents are available to take classes.

€ Shorter classes are better than long ones.

"We've gone from a few years ago when most of our classes were eight or 10 or 12 weeks and now we've gone to shorter, workshop classes," Schwitzky said. Those classes often meet for just a few sessions, offering attendees a taste of the subject matter. If students are interested, they can decide to take a more in-depth class later. "That's why we've attracted more instructors," she continued.

"They're able to promote their skill or their craft or their business, per se, in that short amount of time."

€ Classes will attract a wide variety of students.

High school students looking to get a head start on college will take credit courses through Community Schools, King said. The same goes for teachers from throughout Tucson working on an administrative degree, who can take NAU classes. Senior citizens will fill an introductory Italian or guitar class, she added. And busy parents - even though they are not Community Schools' target audience - sometimes find that a workshop course on cake decorating or drug awareness for parents is just the right fit.

Sherry Barker is one of those parents. Although her children have since graduated, throughout their academic careers in the Foothills district, the entire family took Community Schools classes. Now that the children are away, Barker and her husband still take courses.

"My daughter was totally into pompon and baton twirling," she said, "and who would have known that my husband would have taken mosaic tile work?"

One aspect of Community Schools that Barker particularly liked was its connection with the district's after-school C.A.R.E. program.

As a working parent, Barker said she appreciated that her children could participate in extracurricular activities even though she was not able to drive them. She said her children could sign out of C.A.R.E., go to a Community Schools program, return to C.A.R.E. and then be picked up at the end of the workday. Community Schools offers some discounts for students enrolled in C.A.R.E. and Community Schools.

There are Community Schools activities specifically for students, including driver's education, tamale making, salsa dancing, ping pong, chess and speech and debate. For adults, the list includes massage, water fountain design, oil painting, faux finish painting and a guided hike.

"I could take Italian if I wanted, exercise class, dance, it's the best brochure that I've seen," Barker said.

According to Schwitzky, the Community Schools staff has worked hard to find a diverse spectrum of classes that fits the public's interests while not overlapping with courses already offered in other locations.

"Our computer classes are really popular with older people," she said. "Quite often they've received a computer from maybe one of their children and they're looking for an introductory class. Our computers here are all Macintoshes; there aren't a lot of places you can go that offer instruction on that."

Aschbrenner said he is a vocal advocate of continuing education for people of all ages. He said he has told a lot of computer-illiterate people about the computer classes he has taken and how they have helped him.

"It's up to them if they want to make the effort," he said. "I've found that a lot of the people that I've told haven't wanted to make the effort, unfortunately. But the people that I have mentioned it to that have made the effort, they've very pleased with the classes and what they've gotten."

Most classes are at Catalina Foothills High School, 4300 E. Sunrise Drive. Fees start at about $10 and all classes are subject to cancellation due to low enrollment. Register before Jan. 27 by calling 577-5304 or e-mailing cs@cfsd.k12.az.us. For Northern Arizona University classes, call 879-7900; for Pima Community College classes, call 206-6468.

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