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The Journal Gazette

  • Cathie Rowand | The Journal Gazette Pat Boles and Shylah Ferrier are the FWCS coordinators of Neighborhood Connection, which offers classes on numerous topics, both educational and recreational.

Thursday, June 22, 2017 1:00 am

Continuing ed a 'jolt' for ex-principal

Enjoys FWCS program's 'lifelong learning'

CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette

At a glance

Neighborhood Connection is a program produced by Fort Wayne Community Schools that offers educational and recreational courses for adults on a variety of topics.

Prices: From $29 for handcrafting bracelets to $179 for woodworking

Year program debuted: 1999

Number of people served each year: Around 1,300.

“We want to fill some time with things we enjoy,” said Pat Boles, manager of the Fort Wayne Community Schools Continuing Education program. “Whenever there's a hobby or anything, it usually goes with that person, so ultimately when that person retires or moves to Florida or passes away, it dies with them. This allows people who now take that class to develop that passion more and then they come back and teach.”

Every weekday, Patrick Boles would rise before dawn, leaving home by 5 or 6 a.m. for a one-hour commute to work.

By the time Boles returned to his family in Fort Wayne, it was usually 11 p.m. or approaching midnight.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

Being principal at Lakeland High School was a 24-7 job, but it wasn't merely attending band contests and sporting events on Saturdays or musical performances and booster meetings on Sundays that prompted Boles to feel a little burned out.

After three decades as a professional educator, Boles yearned for a fresh challenge and different way to serve. He found it in the Fort Wayne Community Schools Continuing Education program, which he joined in 2009 as a coordinator and then became manager in 2013 when Bonnie Rogers retired.

“I just wanted a jolt,” Boles said. “What appealed to me with this job was, having been at every level, high school, elementary, middle, teaching college on the side for almost 30 years, I'd been in Fort Wayne, and I missed it. I love this school district.

“The determining factor for me, quite honestly, was this job allowed me for the first time to really work directly with those students who fell through the cracks.”

While there are many components to Continuing Education, more of Boles' fingerprints are on Neighborhood Connection than any other.

Launched in 1999, Neighborhood Connection offers courses for adults both educational and recreational.

There are classes on computers and technology, arts and crafts, health and fitness, woodworking, welding, genealogy, watercolors and dancing, among others.

Roughly 110 classes are available across two semesters, one beginning at the end of August and the other bridging winter and spring. Between 10 percent and 20 percent of the offerings change from one semester to the next.

About 1,300 students are enrolled over a two-semester period. Some are in their 90s, others their 40s, but many fall into two groups: retirees or senior citizens, and young professionals in their 20s or 30s exploring new career options.

Computers, woodworking, welding and art are among the more popular subjects.

“It goes in cycles,” Boles said. “Sometimes it's the teacher that drives it.”

Neighborhood Connection recruits instructors. No teaching license needed, a nominal payment offered for their services culled from student fees.

A few instructors were once students in the program. Others, like Chris Roberts in construction trades, have FWCS day jobs.

The self-funded Neighborhood Connection puts all money gleaned back into the program while receiving no additional aid from FWCS, other than use of rooms at local schools. Many classes are downtown at FWCS' Bill C. Anthis Center.

Boles, who dubs himself “Mr. Data Man,” has been in charge of Neighborhood Connection for eight years and watched it evolve.

“People go through phases in regard to hobbies and so forth,” Boles said. “With the individuals, interests change, so our courses do.”

Even if a course meets the bar of minimum enrollment, Boles studies the demographics and participant feedback.

If a class doesn't work, it will be scrapped in favor of one “trendier or more up to date,” said Shylah Ferrier, who joined Boles' office in November.

Oh, there are repeats. Twice a year, a man they call Mr. Old Timer signs up for the woodworking class he's taken 30 times. When fencing was available, a woman wore the thrill of competition all over her face.

“That feels wonderful,” Ferrier said. “It feels like, 'OK, we're doing what we're here to do.' ”

Boles, born and raised in Fort Wayne, finds this type of program rare nationwide.

“We're a city of churches,” he said. “Whenever there's any kind of a need in the community, people rise together.

“It was natural for Fort Wayne to have a program like this. There are not that many communities out there organized enough.”

Plans are in the works for Neighborhood Connection to enter the realm of social media, as well as family time.

“Being an old-school man, I can't think of anything neater than – this is going to age me – square dancing,” Boles said. “I'm not saying that in particular, but I'm looking at trying to get the mixture of something that is almost nonexistent in homes anymore and bringing families back together. I'm sure that vision will be met. I don't know what it's going to look like.”

Boles' personal vision, of that jolt, is already fulfilled. With Neighborhood Connection, he nurtures a community culture of “lifelong learning.”

“Education has been my life,” Boles said. “This has made me a more well-rounded educator because it's taken me out of that constant goal of college, college, college.

“My focus has been broadened, and that's what I'm thankful for in this job.”