Rise and shine! The pencils are sharpened, your notebook is full of clean, college-ruled paper, and you can drive your own car to school instead of waiting to board the big yellow bus.

Venice is a hub of adult educational opportunities, and no wonder. We have a population brimming with college grads, successful businesspeople and creative types, all eager to engage their minds, further their talents and fill their days with more than just sunshine.

“There’s a trend in our society for lifelong learning. People are thirsty for experiences to enrich their lives,” says Galina Jordan of Sarasota County Schools’ 50-year-old Adult and Community Enrichment (ACE) program, the largest adult educational organization in the area. ACE offers three terms year-round, each with more than 600 classes, for about 13,000 students. The number of ACE registrants has grown nearly 50 percent in the past five years, served in part by a new facility on Suncoast Technical College’s south Sarasota campus dedicated entirely to adult learners.

People have even told Jordan they have moved to Southwest Florida because of the adult education opportunities, she says. Some students sign up for four or five classes each term. Snowbirds base their visits around course schedules.

“We’re not working for credit. You just want to make yourself better,” says Donald Melander, who took his first watercolor course at Englewood Art Center when he moved here 13 years ago. He’s now an EAC instructor. Adult classes, he says, attract kindred spirits who share a thirst for learning and growth. “We all learn from each other,” he says.

We’ve compiled a sampling of the vibrant variety of courses offered in the Venice area, but in truth, there are many more options and opportunities out there. Check out the possibilities, and there’s no telling where the school day will take you.

Hearing Voices

“Alexa? What’s a virtual voice assistant?” First envisioned by an 87-year-old ACE student, this technology course introduces you to your ethereal digital helper, be it Alexa, Siri, Google, Cortana or otherwise. Instructor Bonnie Hammer delights in her older students’ curiosity. “This generation likes to know how things work,” she says, “and for me, a total geek, it’s awesome.” Despite the mature ages of most of her students, Hammer says every class, without fail, laughs hardest at the same command: “Alexa? Fart.” 

Image: Shutterstock

Smartphone Photography

People looking at pretty pictures online don’t stop to ask what kind of camera captured them. So says photographer Spencer Pullen, who teaches a range of photography courses at Englewood Art Center, including one for folks who’ve ditched cameras altogether in favor of their phones. “It’s all about how you set up the lighting and the composition. You can do that with any camera, whether it’s a $10,000 rig, a $79 point-and-shoot or an iPhone,” he says. 

English for Non-Native Speakers

This SCF class was initially aimed at helping young adults improve their English skills enough to register for regular college courses. But instructor Tom Higgs, who has taught English in Malaysia, Vietnam and the Czech Republic, says he often instead sees older professionals from other countries who are looking to re-establish their careers here. Students aged 20 to 65, from as far away as Syria or Japan or Colombia, find common ground in English. “It’s amazing to me how well they get along,” says Higgs. “They’re all such good people.” The last day of the semester is always a party, and everyone brings a dish from his or her home country. 

Creative Dramatics for Adults

Sure, Venice Theatre’s acting courses give grownups a chance to ham it up in the spotlight, exploring acting methods, character development, movement and all the nuances that go into crafting a compelling theatrical performance. But classes also have real-world value, as you develop physical poise, speaking prowess and overall confidence—the kinds of things that will come in handy when you go from treading the boards to leading the board room, or just impressing that good-looking stranger at your next cocktail party.

Image: Shutterstock

Mother’s Cupboard Cooking Demonstrations

Suzanne Andrews, a former caterer and now proprietor of the five-year-old Mother’s Cupboard Spice Shoppe, recounts the transformation of a  cooking demo attendee whose first words to her were, “I don’t cook.” “Now she’s plating her food and posting pictures to Facebook!” says Andrews, whose intimate monthly demos double as raucous group dinners. The lessons, which range from Indian masala to Moorish chicken to cookie decorating, often feature Andrews’ own custom spice blends. This season, she’s emphasizing appetizers. motherscupboardspiceshoppe.com

Image: Shutterstock

Ceramics: Handbuilding

If you’re the sort of aspiring Michelangelo who wanders through a craft show eying pinch-pots or wall planters and thinking, I could make that, here’s your chance. Fine arts grad Nichole Moranda takes the class through a series of basic handbuilding techniques. Then she likes to give her students freedom to explore their clay-based impulses, whether for functional creations or, if you think you’ve got the next David in you, purely artistic sculptures. 

Rejuvenate Your Retirement

What does your ideal retirement look like? Do you have enough money to support it? This two-session SCF class begins with exercises in finding your purpose. Then wealth management professionals Michael Hartley and Brian Pope educate the class on the pros and cons of various financial options. It’s vital info, but yes, they know it sounds dry—"Nobody wants to sit through a lecture,” says Pope—so they keep it fun with lots of interaction and creative thinking. 

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Motorcycles: Basic Rider Course

Dear prospective motorcyclists: The open road awaits. Super-supportive instructor Cindy Northup, who graduated from SCF’s Basic Rider Course 15 years ago, walks students through simple motorcycle operation (balance, clutch, throttle, braking, turning—safety, safety, safety), both in the classroom and out on the course. After two days, students ride off into the sunset with their operator’s certificate. “They’re so grateful that I’ve taught them how to ride a motorcycle, not realizing that they’ve done it themselves,” says Northup. “All I did was give them a little nudge.” 

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Lunch and Learn Art Lecture Series

As a former humanities instructor for Ringling College of Art and Design, Baila Miller counts among her potential lecture topics “all that mankind has ever created.” Miller’s twice-a-month “Lunch and Learn” multimedia talks at the Venice Art Center have developed a following for her engaging, challenging and in-depth approach to the way art and artists interact. Her most recent series focused on artistic “power couples” like Rodin and Claudel, or Stieglitz and O’Keeffe. 

Image: Shutterstock

Watercolor Simply

Novice artists take comfort: In just over a decade, Donald Melander went from retired businessman/newbie painter to admired teacher working alongside nationally known artists. “Watercolor Simply” is how he started and now what he teaches. During six-hour sessions, you follow along with Melander’s demo and complete your own masterpiece in one day. If you’re happy with it, you can submit it to hang in the EAC’s members gallery; if not, no pressure. “We’ll paint something different next week,” he says. 

The Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning: Global Issues Lectures

Come face-to-face with people who have occupied the upper reaches of international politics. Entering into its 48th year, SILL brings in geopolitical experts—primarily retired diplomats or former heads of government agencies—to speak about a wide range of contemporary international issues. Think North Korean relations, Turkey’s slide into authoritarianism or Brexit. Drawing packed houses to the Venice Community Center, each talk ends with a 15-minute audience Q&A. 

Venice Symphony Pre-Concert Talk Series

When it comes to the intensity of its fans, “Classical music is a counter culture event,” says Venice Symphony’s second chair French horn Troy Messner, “much like hardcore rap, almost like a street gang.” Messner, a retired West Point Band member, leads the symphony’s free pre-concert talks, which have been likened by attendees to a late-night talk show with soloist interviews, Q&As and playful insights into the evening’s program. This season’s highlights include Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 (Feb. 22-23) and Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 (March 22-23), “which is crazy-big horns,” says Messner. He speaks from experience. 

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Ballet Moves

“Even in my old age, I can still produce a good line,” says the world-renowned Robert de Warren, who brings his ballet expertise to ACE’s pristine, four-year-old, adults-only dance studio. Now 85, the former director of the Sarasota Ballet (the most recent stop on his globe trotting career as a dancer, choreographer and company director) focuses on the classical technique, “but in a thought-out way so I don’t provoke injury,” he says. “We do a nice musical and rhythmical class, which gives them stretching and balance, which are all things that we need to keep.” In the end, dancers of all shapes and sizes learn to string together an expressive homage to Nureyev or Fonteyn or de Warren himself. sarasotacountyschools.net/schools/ace

Image: Shutterstock

Private Pilot Ground School

FAA-certified flight instructor Jon Kotwicki compares flying a plane to driving a car, “except there are a few more steps before you turn the key.” The first step? SCF’s online Private Pilot Ground School, which preps students for the FAA written exam to begin flight school. Kotwicki, who helped design the course, sees all sorts of people pass the test and begin training at Venice’s Sarasota Aero Club. “The only thing they really have in common,” he says, “is that when an airplane flies over, they all seem to look up.” 

Audubon Field Trips

South Sarasota’s many vibrant and varied habitats (think salty Lemon Bay, scrubby Oscar Scherer, or marshy Myakka) are home to more than 200 bird species—and that’s just the jumping-off point for the Venice Area Audubon Society’s 55 annual walking field trips, which teach attendees not just about the birds, but their environment and how best to preserve it. The two-hour strolls open your eyes to the sheer volume of flora and fauna living just outside our own back yards. 

Image: Shutterstock

Cooking with Giuliano Hazan

Smell the herbs and feel the fresh pasta dough in your fingers as you explore the art of the home-crafted Italian dishes in the kitchen of a noted cookbook author and the only son of the late, great Marcella Hazan, the godmother of Italian cooking. Giuliano Hazan and his wife, Lael, welcome groups into their home for lighthearted, hands-on workshops resulting in delectable four-course Italian meals—which the class then enjoys together, of course, for a warm, family-style experience. 


Sarasota County Schools’ Adult and Community Enrichment (ACE)

ACE has its own dedicated facility on the Sarasota campus of Suncoast Technical College, featuring classrooms, computer labs, a dance studio and ceramics studio. 4748 Beneva Road, Sarasota, (941) 361-6590. ACE at STC North Port, 4445 Career Lane, North Port. ACE at STC Venice, 409 Bahama St., Venice

Englewood Art Center 

An affiliate of Ringling College of Art and Design, EAC facilities include studios, classrooms and computer labs. 350 S. McCall Road, Englewood, (941) 474-5548

Mother’s Cupboard Spice Shoppe Cooking Demonstrations, 208 W. Miami Ave., Venice, (941) 525-8041

Sarasota Cooking Classes with Giuliano Hazan, (941) 363-1258

Sarasota Institute of Lifetime Learning

Venice talks take place at the Venice Community Center. 326 S. Nokomis Ave., Venice, (941) 365-6404.

State College of Florida

SCF’s Corporate and Community Development program includes personal enrichment, technology and language courses. Venice Campus: 8000 S. Tamiami Trail, Venice, (941) 408-1300

Venice Area Audubon Society

Bird walks and field trips at area parks and nature preserves. (941) 496-8984

Venice Art Center

Galleries, lectures and creative courses including painting/drawing, ceramics, jewelry and photography. 390 Nokomis Ave. S., Venice. (941) 485-7136

The Venice Symphony

Pre-concert talks at the Venice Performing Arts Center, as well as adult music educational opportunities. 1 Indian Ave., Venice, (941) 448-1010

Venice Theatre 

Adult improv, acting and script/character interpretation classes. 140 W. Tampa Ave., Venice, (941) 488-1115

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