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STARS program lets retirees go back to school

The STARS Senior Enrichment Program is little known at Rollins, yet it is an initiative that has surpassed its enrollment goals since its inception in 2013.

The STARS (standing for Senior Tars) program is a collection of non-graded courses that do not result in a degree but are offered with the intent of enriching Winter Park seniors’ lives. Classes are for adults aged 50 and older, costing $70 each. 

Peggy Smith-Clayman, STARS program manager, said when STARS first began, its goal was to have 125 students in the first year, 250 students in the second year, and 500 students in the third year. Instead, the program surpassed its third year enrollment goal in its first year. 

She said that in the Fall 2018 semester, the program had 611 registrations. 

Numbers from this year are not established yet due to the program’s open and ongoing enrollment. 

Many STARS students use the program as an opportunity to take classes they were unable to take while they were in college decades ago. With students representing professions such as law and engineering, hundreds of seniors have taken advantage of the liberal arts curriculum to expand their knowledge in a multitude of subjects. 

In turn, students offer unique knowledge to their professors. Associate Professor Dr. Kasandra Riley said, “I learned things from [the STARS] that are going to go back into the classroom at Rollins, starting in the spring when I teach my kitchen chemistry class.”

Riley chose to teach STARS classes in addition to her daily course load and duties as chair of the chemistry department. 

Smith-Clayman said that her main goal is to garner more support for the program, such as more faculty offering to teach classes. Smith-Clayman also wishes to increase interaction with the wider Rollins community, particularly between undergraduate students and the STARS. However, there are no current plans to further this.

Many senior students  are in the program because they share a common desire to get to know new people. A lot of them are divorced, widowed, or have recently moved into the area. Other senior Tars take the classes as a way to bond with their significant other. Married couples will use the classes as a date night.

“There are classes nine months out of the year and [the STARS] will come every week and every one of those months,” said Smith-Clayman.

Riley said students are relaxed in class since the program does not have a grading system: “They’re all doing it because that’s how they choose to spend their time, and they have a lot of flexibility and time in their lives.”

The program itself is self-sustaining and does not rely on funding from Rollins. 

For STARS unable to commute to Rollins, some classes are held at other locations such as local churches, the Winter Park Wellness Center, Westminster Winter Park, and retirement homes.

Smith-Clayman said her work in the STARS program is “one of the most rewarding things I have done.”

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