At 86, Althea Carrick might be the last person one would expect to find in summer school.
But Carrick is joining about 300 other residents of Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville taking college courses this summer.
The program, called the Senior Institute, is part of a 15-year collaboration between Charlestown and the Catonsville campus of the Community College of Baltimore County.
Seniors enroll in courses that range from hobby classes such as watercolor painting to history, politics and foreign languages.
"The classes that they do take are pretty heavy-hitting, substantial classes," said Marsha Koger, spokeswoman for the Catonsville campus. "They're into academics."
In addition to taking "Learning About Contemporary Issues and Ideas" this semester, Carrick is taking a second course on "Biblical Personalities."
"It's wonderful," Carrick said. "It keeps our minds young and hopefully alert about what's going on in the world."
The seniors pay $12 per course. The noncredit courses meet weekly for 10 weeks.
Bill Engel, 80, sits on the Charlestown committee known as "the school board," which selects the courses for the four terms in the year.
Some are so popular that the courses must be taught in the auditorium, Engel said.
Engel is a former certified public accountant who earned a second college degree from Salisbury State University after he retired. He often takes two courses over a term at Charlestown.
"My wife said to me, 'What are you going to do when you retire?'" Engel said. "And I said, 'I'm going back to college.'"
Toby Essrog, a community college instructor, specializes in teaching seniors. In addition to Charlestown, she teaches at several surrounding retirement homes.
"I find them to be bright, alert and responsive," Essrog said. "They want to be there."
Essrog said she gains inspiration from seniors such as Helen Carr, who makes her way to the classes with the help of a walker.
"They're role models," Essrog said. "I learn much more from them."
And the seniors praise the instructors.
Bob Reynolds is a Civil War buff who recently took a class on the subject. "The professor covers it like nothing I've seen in the text books," Reynolds said.
Raymond Vanderlind, a former Philadelphia professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, has taken 360 hours of college courses at Charlestown during the past eight years.
"Learning is a lifelong process," Vanderlind said.
Harriett Fisk, 79, agrees. Recently, Fisk sat in the front row of a contemporary issues class.
"It keeps me up to snuff on current events," she said. "We want to keep up with what's going on in the world because it's our world, too."