Continuing education in Wilton: Class popularity ramps up
Repeat this to yourself: School is fun. School is fun.
Walk into room 3 at Wilton High School, and the ladies of Wilton Continuing Education will tell you that same thing.
“We have a great time here,” said Dolores Tufariello, coordinator of Wilton Continuing Education.
The energy of Ms. Tufariello, along with children’s program supervisor Emily Dowden, children’s programs manager Doreen Esposito, and registrar Lorraine Anagnost is infectious as they sit in their cinder-block office. While it doesn’t sound glamorous, the ladies keep it light and happy.
“We love talking about what we do,” Ms. Tufariello said. “We love to serve our small town with big programs and big ideas.”
The list of programs offered by Continuing Ed is extensive. While it is a cliché to say it, there truly is something for everyone. A quick look at the website (wiltoncontinuinged.com) reveals a wide variety. For the athlete and fitness nut, there are classes on bicycle maintenance and inspection, yoga, golf, and tennis. The kids can play basketball or flag football, or learn fencing. Maybe public speaking or writing a memoir is something to pursue.
During the recession there were some lean years, but the totally self-funded office, supported by the Board of Education, stayed relevant, and found ways to keep prospective students coming. They changed some programs from eight weeks to six. Price points were adjusted. Perhaps the biggest factor was the quality of the programs and the people teaching them.
“With the economic downfall, we definitely took a hit,” Ms. Dowden said. “Slowly we’ve come back. In 2010-11, we grew 40%. In 2011-12, we grew 20%, and in 2012-13, we grew another 20%.”
Stretching across sessions in summer, fall, and winter/spring, classes and opportunities seem limitless, save perhaps for class size.
“We tend to focus on academic programs in the summer,” Ms. Dowden said. “It’s just sort of our niche.”
The lesson here is if you’re interested in something, don’t wait, because the class might fill up. A prime example of this is Engineering Fundamentals, which allows kids to dive into more than 100,000 Legos and build things beyond their imagination.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people wait until the last minute to register,” said Ms. Dowden. It’s always kind of stressful towards those last weeks.”
Prices generally begin at $120, and can go as high as $240 for the Top Talk! programs that help build confidence and self-esteem in children at Cider Mill School, teaching them to communicate effectively.
“We’ve heard such fantastic feedback from this class,” she said. “It started out as a higher-level program for professionals, and they adapted the program to children.
“We see what is popular, based on enrollment, or from parents. Many of our program suggestions come from parents and the public.”
The Continuing Ed office also offers child care, known as extended-day programs. Parents may drop off students early or have them stay late and know that they are in the hands of qualified professionals who follow the guidelines set by Wilton Public Schools.
“We have high school students that come and assist the instructors so that the kids have great peer models with the older kids,” said Ms. Esposito. They really get into playing with them.”
“It’s unusual for a school district to run a child care program,” Ms. Dowden added. “You can do it because there’s one school that’s K through two, one that’s three through five. It’s smaller. You can manage it.”
Ms. Tufariello made sure to recognize the work of the staff in the child care program: Birgit DiForio, Lisa Raggio, and MacGregor Onderdonk at Miller-Driscoll, Kathy Baxter and Chris Kuser at Cider Mill School, and Krystal Kinahan at Wilton High School.
Another advantage is the relationship with the Board of Ed.
“The support of the district is immense,” Ms. Tufariello said.
The programs are able to use all of the facilities of the town and the school system, including Trackside Teen Center and Comstock Community Center. At the same time, programs may also be run off-site, such as at the fencing academy.
“It’s nice to have classes out of the school,” Ms. Tufariello added. “It’s exciting and it’s nice to go these facilities, and some of them are beautiful.”
The staff isn’t afraid to go out into the field as well. Ms. Tufariello, Ms. Esposito, and Ms. Dowden went to the senior center to teach a special iPad class.
“What an audience,” Ms. Tufariello exclaimed. “It was so much fun. They were very appreciative and very smart.”
“We got great feedback,” said Ms. Dowden. “We may be a traveling road show, going to assisted living as well. If they can’t make it to Comstock, we’ll come to them.”
The website is a point of pride, as each woman stressed it is constantly updating and changing to reflect current course offerings and graphics.
“We have the approval to communicate through the school website,” said Ms. Dowden. We’re affiliated. We’re part of the school system. Now that the district has edline, we’re able to reach families without bombarding them.”
Assistant Superintendent Tim Canty, who is departing the school district for Darien, was responsible for managing Continuing Education from the Board of Ed perspective. While the staff says they’ll miss Mr. Canty, they expect a seamless transition.
“Whoever is in that spot, I’m sure, will be just as supportive,” said Ms. Tufariello. “We just keep doing what we’re doing and they’re happy that we’re doing it.”