Meet the Teachers!

A series of South Orange-Maplewood Adult School teacher profiles.

With over 150 classes offered each semester, it follows that the South Orange-Maplewood Adult School draws from a plethora of talented teachers - many of them local, and all enthusiastic experts in their respective fields. As the Adult School enters into its 80th year, we wanted to take a moment to highlight some of our fabulous teachers. Please enjoy the following series of Adult School teacher profiles – some new to the Adult School this semester – and some returning year after year to teach us new skills, bring us together and help us celebrate our wonderful community of like-minded learners!

Gary Martin
Public Speaking ($110), eight Wednesdays, March 6-May 8 (skipping April 10 & 17) from 7-8:30pm at South Orange Middle School

After 16 years working as a Broadway actor and national tours that took him all over the world, Gary Martin decided to switch gears and focus on a more family-friendly career that would allow him to stay closer to his home in Montclair. He began by teaching an acting class at Montclair State University (MSU) but quickly noticed how many of his students were hindered by speech patterns, such as “ya know, um” and “like.” Gary developed a syllabus on public speaking and took it to the MSU Gifted and Talented program. The rest, as they say, was history. With an ever growing need, Gary began teaching public speaking skills at other schools and then expanded to adults.

This spring, the Adult School is pleased to welcome Gary Martin to its ranks. He will be teaching Public Speaking, which he says is for anyone who has ever had to stand up in front of a group of people and make a presentation – whether for a board meeting or the PTA. “The number one problem people have with public speaking is that they don’t see themselves as they really are,” Gary notes. “We need to see ourselves as imperfect before we can become dynamic speakers.” He says many of us display the same speech patterns/filler language (um, ya know, like) as those students in his acting class years ago but don’t realize it. Until we are tuned into what we really sound and look like, the problems remain. In his class, students can expect lots of exercises in a non-threatening environment to get them comfortable with speaking in front of a group.

Bruce Crawford
Vegetable Gardening ($38), March 13 from 7-9pm at South Orange Middle School

After studying Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Bruce Crawford spent the next twenty-three years running a small garden design firm. He became the Director of Rutgers Gardens eight years ago because he wanted to share his knowledge of gardening and the advantages of plants and design with a wider audience. Bruce continues to lend the Adult School students his expertise and this spring will offer a vegetable gardening course. Vegetable gardening has suddenly become all the rage for a good number of reasons:

  • It is a proven fact that the nutritional content of food drops the longer the time between harvest and consumption.  If your food is picked hours or minutes before it appears on the table, the food is far healthier.
  • Food that is produced in your back yard lowers the carbon footprint of transportation
  • Whether you choose to go organic or to spray certain crops, you know what has been applied to your crops and when.  By contrast, this is an unknown factor with food purchased at a store.
  • And finally, growing your own vegetables is fun!

Starting your own garden is easy.  All you need is sunlight and soil that is not in a location that ponds after a storm.  Bruce will discuss techniques for improving the soil, various vegetables that have proven easy to grow in NJ and some basic techniques on how to grow vegetables as organically as possible. 


Lesley Kurtz Schiftic
Basket Weaving 101 ($35), two Thursdays, February 28 and March 7 from 7:30-9pm at Columbia High School

Lesley holds a BA from George Washington University and a Masters from NYU -- and she did not major in “underwater basket weaving, “ as the old joke goes.    She did however, have a long career in museum education and corporate philanthropy.

A crafter at heart, Lesley jumped on the chance to teach basket weaving to children when she was offered the opportunity several years ago.  Through her company Art Starts, she teaches “Wee Weavers” to elementary school age children, teaches basketry full time at a local day camp and throughout the year hosts Birthday Basket Bash for all ages.

When asked about the appeal of basket weaving, Lesley says, “Basket weaving is a great combination of knitting and pottery.  Each basket takes on its own look as it is woven. As the basket takes form, it begins a life of its own, similar to throwing on the wheel in pottery; and the endless patterns and great variety of stitches is like knitting. It never ceases to amaze me that the same base and materials will end up being so uniquely different. Basketry is also a great way to clear your mind and get creative. Since the stitches take focus it is never boring or repetitive but rather mesmerizing and absorbing.  Basketry is easy for beginners to master and builds on skills for new challenges.  And the best part, you can never have too many baskets!”

Basket Weaving 101 starts tomorrow, Thursday, February 28 but there are still a few spots left so call the Adult School at (973) 378-7620 or visit www.somadultschool.org to register today!

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