2018 Community Service Award

Chester County Night School provides lifelong learning

By Andy Hachodorian

It’s amazing what can happen when you sit some friends around a kitchen table and toss around ideas and brainstorm.

Back in late 1955, John Mitman, his wife and some friends did exactly that talking about a need for adults to experience lifelong learning. Operating out of a garage at the time they developed the first catalog for the Chester County Night School (CCNS).

Back then the catalog was typewritten and included 15 classes such as shorthand, bookkeeping, typing and even lamp shade making.

From those modest and humble beginnings has blossomed an effort now serving nearly 6,000 students a year; twice a year 175,000 catalogs are sent to all residents of Chester County.

The huge growth from those beginnings in a garage to the efforts today has garnered the Chester County Night School the 2018 Community Service Award recipient by the Greater West Chester Chamber of Commerce.

The award will be presented on Thursday, February 7, 2019, from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Desmond Hotel in Malvern during the Chamber’s Annual Banquet sponsored by Arthur Hall Insurance.

CCNS is an outlet for both traditional and non-traditional learning. It’s a great way for people to take classes that are fun, but also fulfilling and enriching.

“We have a strong base of learners in our traditional classes such as foreign languages, computers, fitness and crafts,” says CCNS Co-Director Jill Johnson. “But there is increasing interest in our more non-traditional classes such as Beekeeping, Backyard Chicken and Egg Production, Ghost Hunting and Blacksmithing.

“Those seeking personal enrichment can take classes on public speaking, dream interpretation and ‘hygge’ your way to happiness,” she adds. “For the practical learner, CCNS offers classes on career enhancement, business development and computer skills. And for those who want to get in better physical shape, we offer Aqua Spinning, Taekwondo, and Yoga with a Twist (to name just a few).”

According to Johnson, CCNS serves students from ages 9 to 91 with both adult classes and the CHECK (Chester County Enrichment Classes for Kids) summer camp program.

“Typically, we serve approximately 4,000-6,000 students a year – which we like to say is the size of a small university,” says Johnson.

Johnson explains that the CCNS is meeting the current trends.

“Our classes are the kind that capture what people need in today’s world whether it’s for enjoyment, career enhancement, physical enrichment or mental stimulation. Our classes change with the changing times,” she says. “For example, our ‘Islam: Knowing Your Neighbor’ class became very popular when tensions arose in the Middle East.

“After 9/11, students didn’t want to travel so enrollment in our Language classes declined while our more ‘homey’ classes such a cooking and sewing flourished. When the national economy falters, our Business and Investment classes soar! We are now exploring the current trends of online classes and teaching offered through Zoom and You Tube.”

Leslie Heisman, CCNS Co-Director adds that the organization has a base of students who have taken classes for many years.

“One student loved our classes so much that she left us a Trust Fund which has helped our non-profit organization tremendously,” Heisman adds proudly. “Many students have even made careers out of our classes. For example, one student took several of our flower arranging classes and opened her own floral store. Another student took our Clowning class and set up a whole Party Entertainment business. One of our long-time dance instructors, Valerie Clemens, said teaching for CCNS led her to open her own dance studio.”

CCNS, Heisman says, contributes to lifelong learning for adults in the county.

“Lifelong learning increases your knowledge and – just as importantly – your ability to use that knowledge in diverse and meaningful ways,” she explains. “Lifelong learning helps to keep your brain working well, and as we continue to live longer and longer, this is a benefit that is hard to ignore.

“Lifelong learning sparks social engagement – we connect with others because we want to learn from them and with them.”

Johnson has been with CCNS for 18 years first as Program Director now as Co-Director. Heisman was on the CCNS board several years before joining the staff as Co-Director two years ago.

Marjorie Wentz, an instructor at the facility, says CCNS brings opportunity to residents of the county.

“Chester County Night School provides valuable educational opportunities for the community,” she notes. “They are focused on topics that are interesting and relevant. Our firm has worked with them for several years and has been impressed with the dedication and enthusiasm of the small staff that handles this important work.”

“The Chamber is thrilled to honor the Chester County Night School,” said GWCC President & CEO Mark Yoder. “What a great resource to serve our community here in Chester County. We are proud to recognize their history, their efforts and their success.”

To learn more about the Chester County Night School, go to ChesterCountyNightSchool.org. They are located at 222 N. Walnut St., West Chester, PA 19380 and their phone number is 610-692-1964.

Join us at the GWCC Annual Banquet to celebrate Chester County Night School. Purchase tickets at GreaterWestChester.com/annual-banquet.

Special thanks to Fulton Bank, sponsor of the Community Service Award.

Andy Hachadorian is the manager of digital marketing and media for Cutanea Life Sciences and is the former editor of the Daily Local News (West Chester).