Springfield School District launched its new initiative for seniors with a lot of enthusiasm and community spirit. The Gold Pass Academy started two classes in early September with a full complement of participants who were eager to "go back to school."

The program is an extension of the Gold Pass, an offer to all district senior citizens for free access to many events such as sports and the performing arts. But administrators and members of the school board thought they could do more.

On hand to greet nearly 50 students the first night was district personnel including Superintendent Tony Barber, program coordinator and teacher on assignment Lori Schmidt, and Melissa Butler, Director of Technology and Assessment. Also part of the informal reception committee was Tricia Scepansky, Director of Community Education at Delaware County Community College, who explained the underlying and critical partnership for the new venture.

"I started talking with Frank Agovino, one of Springfield's school board members who works at Community College," said Scepansky. "We mentioned the Elder Week program at DCCC in its 37th year. We thought, wouldn't it be great to partner with the district on something of that nature. From that, Frank took the idea back to the district, and I worked on it from the college side."

The program's tag line is "A Senior College—powered by Delaware County Community College." Courses are delivered by DCCC instructors and conveniently held at Springfield High School. And did we mention it is free to all seniors?

Five courses will be offered this fall. September 10 opened with Beginning Italian and Chair Yoga. November programs include Introduction to Floral Design, Smartphone Basics and a one-night seminar on Empty Nesters.

"We are super excited for the start, and are having a good time registering people," said Schmidt. "The hardest part was turning away students for Chair Yoga once our maximum number was met."

Scepansky had a view on popularity aside from the course offerings. "Once the financial aspect was removed—offering classes for free—it was very easy."

Carolyn Larson, a resident of Golf View Estates, was ready for Chair Yoga, but had an insight into the course selection. "The district came to Golf View as we are a senior community. We met with Tony and Melissa and asked what kind of classes might interest us. Then we brainstormed with our neighbors and offered suggestions," said Larsen who mentioned her granddaughter is starting at the high school as a particular connection to the district. "We are all trying to get limber," Larsen joked about her peers. "Word got out about what was being offered for us and it moved from there. It's great that Tony wants to reach out to us."

A few brief interviews of students revealed something perhaps unremarkable. Many were happy to share the experience with spouses or friends. Nancy Rama and Linda Di Nicola were neighbors in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia for 30 years and both have moved to Springfield. Rama said they already do pool exercises together, and "needed to do something more," as they headed for the Knorr Theater space where Rebecca Damia would be conducting the Chair Yoga class.

Elizabeth Dougherty and Barb Dougherty were not related, nor did they know each other, but both were Chair Yoga students for the same reason of improving fitness for mental and physical health. "I really did jump at the opportunity for this as soon as I read about it," said Elizabeth Dougherty.

"I've always been interested in yoga, but I thought it was too difficult," said Barb Dougherty, acknowledging the advantages of this version.

They will be seeing each other again in November, having registered for Floral Design.

Fair to say many students for Beginning Italian will step into Denise Munneke's class as not quite beginners. Jim and Donna DeRose met Anthony and Joan Borrelli in the lobby, but have known each other from church. They had very similar stories.

"My parents wanted us to be American. They spoke Italian, but wanted the children to speak English," said Jim DeRose, looking forward to returning to his roots.

Joan Borrelli still has family in Italy. "I have forgotten almost everything. I want to refresh my memory."

Judy Mento, a realtor for 30 years, said, "My kids wanted me to go back to school! But I think it is always good to expand your mind. I think the Beginning Italian will be fun."

The aim of the Gold Pass Academy seems to be a great blend of learning, fun and community involvement. Opening night had every indication goals were being fulfilled.

"We are honored to be partners with DCCC in order to offer this program to our senior community members. We want the school district to be a center for learning to not just our students, but the community as well. This is a great start to that goal," said Tony Barber." Likewise, we recognize that our senior community contributes to the success of the public system, and we want all of our community members to know they are valued and appreciated. Gold Pass Academy is one way we can say thank you."

For more information: to obtain a Gold Pass, contact Debi Marker in the superintendent's office, or 610-938-6004; on Academy course or to register, contact Lori Schmidt, or 610-938-6199; see the Senior Connections tab at the SSD website