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'People want to try something different': Nearly 800 registrants for current online rec classes in Coquitlam

A year after the pandemic lockdown, the city of Coquitlam is now offering up to 60 live online sessions per month ranging from cooking and language instruction to music and art classes.
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Before the pandemic lockdown last year, Eileen Harder taught acrylic painting at Coquitlam’s Glen Pine and Dogwood pavilions (centres for Coquitlam residents ages 50 and older), and guitar at Dogwood. Now, she’s providing instruction virtually for the municipality — to all ages.

With a paintbrush in hand, Eileen Harder guides her students through one of two pieces they’ll complete this month.

But, because of the physical distancing restrictions, Harder isn’t teaching them at Coquitlam’s Glen Pine or Dogwood pavilions.

Instead, she’s instructing from a makeshift studio at Glen Pine — surrounded by computers, lights, a projector and screen.

Glen Pine is one of five recreation centres where space has been converted for virtual classes, a move aimed to keep Coquitlam citizens active and engaged during the pandemic while the hubs are temporarily shut to adults.

And while the two pavilions are featuring virtual lessons for residents ages 50 and older, other civic hubs are providing free online content, too: Poirier Sport and Leisure Complex is showcasing fitness classes while the Poirier and Pinetree community centres both have children’s (and some adult) activities.

The transition to a Zoom platform has been a benefit to many residents, said Chris Cordova, Coquitlam’s recreation facility supervisor. Not only can participants stay at home but they can also use their supplies.

“It’s more convenient especially for cooking classes,” Cordova told Tri-City News during an interview at Glen Pine today (May 11). “They’re used to their own equipment and kitchen so there’s more comfort.”

Started last spring by the city’s communications team, the virtual classes fall under the Coquitlam Spirit initiative, which also includes writing challenges, craft-making activities for special occasions and outdoor fun as well as virtual park tours and pre-packaged kits for families to collect in the lead up to holidays.

“We found that our seniors were really struggling with being home and not having any physical or social connections because of the centre closures,” said Debbie Clavelle, Coquitlam’s community recreation manager. 

A year later, the city is now offering up to 60 live online sessions per month ranging from cooking and language instruction to music and art classes.

Currently, there are 784 people registered for programs in progress; by comparison, there were 665 registrants last month.

Harder said she’s seeing the core group from her pavilion classes plus a few new faces online — “people who want to try something different,” she said. “I’ve got an 85-year-old man who’s never painted before.”

Still, Cordova said there can be some technical challenges when new registrants beam in; city staff ask virtual attendees to log in 15 minutes before their first session so they can work out the bugs in advance.

As well, besides the instructor, a moderator is available to co-host and to assist with tuning-in difficulties.

Asked if the city will continue with virtual programming post-pandemic, Clavelle said city staff are crunching the numbers and reviewing models from other municipalities that have also flipped over to online classes.

Whether they will remain free of charge remains to be seen.  “There’s going to be an ongoing need to stay connected,” she said.

• To sign up for one of the 47 online programs scheduled to start in late May and early June — including dancing, boot camp, photography, early years’ storytime and cooking, visit (search for the keyword “virtual”).