Stephanie Bruneau, MALT executive director, has announced that more than 250 classes have been canceled but that 75 will be available online. by Len Lear Just before the coronavirus pandemic caused …
by Len Lear
Just before the coronavirus pandemic caused most of us to stay home, Mt. Airy Learning Tree (MALT) printed 69,000 catalogues for its spring semester, which included more than 250 courses. The timing could not have been worse.
“I am trying to focus more on the positive — that we will be launching over 75 classes online very soon — than the negative,” said MALT's executive director, Stephanie Bruneau. We just gave out over $10,000 in refunds for cancelled classes, and the 69,000 spring term catalogs that we had printed are pretty much useless. In fact, the success of these online classes could very well make or break our organization's ability to even be here in the future.”
MALT, founded in 1981 by Barbara Bloom, offered 17 courses and enrolled 125 students in its first season. Bloom said at the time that MALT's mission was “to strengthen and enrich the diverse community of Northwest Philadelphia by providing opportunities for individuals to come together in educational and recreational activities. MALT's purpose is basically to have neighbors teaching neighbors.”
Up until the coronavirus outbreak, MALT, a non-profit corporation with a small part-time staff and volunteer board, was offering between 250 and 300 courses three times a year, in the fall, winter and spring. Topics range literally from A (Adventures in Sewing) to Z (Zumba). The instructors are mostly local residents, and the classrooms are in local churches, schools, businesses and homes or outdoors in Wissahickon Park and at local points of interest.
The 75 upcoming online classes will be listed on the MALT website.
“All registered students will be provided with simple and easy instructions for participation,” Bruneau said. “Online classes will be held via Zoom and can be easily accessed through a laptop, desktop, tablet or smartphone. Your chosen device must be connected to the internet and have speakers. A webcam is optional but is recommended.”
Even before the current crisis, online classes were being considered by MALT.
“But we've never tested it out,” Bruneau said. “I think as a society, we are all being pushed to try new ways of living and doing right now. It's quite possible that many of the adaptations that we are testing now will stick. I've made more homemade bread these past two weeks than I have in the past year. And I've heard there's an exponential growth in backyard chicken keeping, for example.”
Why is it that all 250 classes or more in the spring catalogue are not being offered online, just 75? “Unfortunately, we will only be able to adapt 75 to an online platform, as some instructors aren't comfortable teaching online, and some classes just really don't translate well to video (Wine Tasting, for example),” Bruneau said. “But we feel very excited about the online course roster, as 75 online courses are better than no courses.
“We are thrilled to be able to continue our mission of connecting community members through shared experiences and common interests. This feels more important now than ever. We're thrilled to be able to provide an avenue for social connection, which can be truly life sustaining in this moment of social isolation. We are providing all instructors that are interested in online instruction with lots of support, including live training sessions, so that classes run smoothly and adapt well to an online platform.”
Some of the online offerings will be language classes, cooking demonstrations, painting with watercolors, pilates and aerobics. Some ongoing classes have already made the transition online.
For more specifics on the 75 online classes that are being offered, visit mtairylearningtree.org or call 215-843-6333.