"It's about forgetting about real life and doing something fun with friends."
That's how Kristen Stuenkel, director of community education in the Columbia Heights school district, describes the popular classes for adults enrolling in community-education programs this fall.
"People don't take the classes in a recession that you would think," she said. "Classes about how to increase fuel economy and how to budget just aren't cutting it."
Scrap "50 Ways to a Frugal Life," and put on your "So You Think You Can Dance" shoes and cha-cha the pounds off with Zumba dance fitness classes. Forget collecting fallen limbs in the back yard to make an occasional chair, and belly up to "Scotch Talk and Tasting" -- for those who give a dram.
Remember those community education staples about writing your will, clipping coupons and comparing life insurance policies? They're still around, but most of those frugal folks are probably watching the scotch drinkers, salsa dancers and deer gutters with their noses pressed against the glass.
Wait a minute -- deer gutting? Besides the scotch tasting, it's another way that many community education classes are trying to attract more men to a predominantly female pursuit, said Marsha Buchok, coordinator for Edina Community Education. A roadkill deer is brought in to show how to field-dress, skin and clean the carcass properly. In Columbia Heights, a companion class, "Intro to Sausage Making," is offered a week later.
In the spirit of good, cheap fun, Dollars & Sense wants to shed some light on an under-reported fact: Learning through entertainment in community education classes saves big bucks.
Some of the most common classes include fitness, cooking and dance, all offered at prices that are often substantially lower than at fitness clubs or dedicated schools.
In Anoka-Hennepin's adult program, for example, some fitness and yoga classes can be taken for less than $5 per session with no annual membership required. Cooking classes that are $19 to $45 through community ed can cost $60 to $100 at cooking academies. Some communities such as Columbia Heights offer free or $5 classes, too. Hastings Community Education offers free online classes for the unemployed (651-480-7674, www.ed2go.com/a-hastingscomed).
The reason for the low fees isn't because the classes are taxpayer-supported. It's because the classes are offered in a not-for-profit structure.
"We just try to cover our costs with the registration fees," Stuenkel said.
Classes that fail to attract enough students to break even are canceled.
To find out about community education classes in your area, go to www.mn-mcea.org and click on "member districts," or Google the name of the city and "community education." Usually, you don't have to live in the district to take classes. Those who can't attend evening classes should ask about online-only classes, called Ed2Go.
FUN FALL CLASSES - A SAMPLER
GROOMING YOUR PET YOURSELF AND SAVING MONEY (Burnsville, 952-707-4110, www.communityed191.org), $19 a person or $29 a pair, 7-9:30 p.m. on Sept. 14 or Nov. 9. A second class also is offered in which students groom their pets.
WRITING CHILDREN'S BOOKS (Shakopee, 952-496-5031, www. shakopee.k12.mn.us), $15, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Sept. 20.
KETTLEBELLS FOR BEGINNERS (Bloomington, 952-681-6132, www.bloomington richfieldcommunityeducation.com), $49 for six fitness sessions 6:30-7:30 p.m. on Mondays starting Sept. 20 or Wednesdays starting Sept. 22.
BEHIND THE SCENES TOUR OF TARGET FIELD Followed by lunch at Jax (952-848-3952, www.edinacommunityed.org/adult), $65, 10:15 a.m.-3:15 p.m. Sept. 24.
BLACK PARIS: THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN 20TH CENTURY FRANCE (Minneapolis, 612-668-3100, www.mplscommunityed.com), $42, 6:30-8 p.m. on eight Mondays starting Sept. 27.
SCOTCH TALK AND TASTING (held at France 44 Wine & Spirits, 952-848-3952, www.edinacommunityed.org/adult), $39, 6:30- 7:45 p.m. Oct. 6.
INDIAN COOKING: NAVARTAN KURMA AND BASMATI RICE PULAV (Eagan/Apple Valley, 651-423-7920, www.district196.org/ce), $42, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Oct. 8.
WINDOWS AND SIDING: A HOMEOWNER'S GUIDE (Robbinsdale, 763-504-6990, www.ced.rdale.org), $10, 6:30-8:30 p.m., Oct. 12.
CREATE A KEEPSAKE COOKBOOK (Mound, 952-491-8055, www.westonkace.org), $15, 6:30-9 p.m. Oct. 12 and 19.
TRASH OR TREASURES: THE ESTATE LIQUIDATION PROCESS (St. Louis Park, 952-928-6442, www.slpcommunityed.com), $19, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Oct. 21. Similar classes on Antique Appraisals (Oct. 14) and Understanding the True Value of Your Antiques (Oct. 28) also are offered.
ZUMBA LATIN DANCE/FITNESS WORKOUT (offered in most community-ed programs, including Minnetonka, 952-401-6800, www.minnetonkacommunityed.org), $60 for eight sessions, 6-7 p.m. on Mondays starting Oct. 25.
DEER CUTTING FOR DUMMIES (offered in most community-ed programs, including Roseville, 651-604-3770, www.isd623.org), $45, 7-9:30 p.m. Nov. 3.
CREATE A DECK OF CARDS FROM PHOTOS (Circle Pines, 763-792-6100, www.centennialcsonline.org), $30, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Nov. 16 and 23.