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Students Share Computer Know-How With Senior Citizens


A New Jersey elementary school project to help senior citizens access the Internet became a valuable intergenerational experience, as the school's fifth graders conducted a computer workshop for local senior citizens. Included: Comments from participants in a student-run computer workshop for senior citizens.

In an attempt to open their Glen Rock, New Jersey, elementary school to the community, the Clara E. Coleman Elementary School sponsored a computer and Internet workshop. The school's fifth graders helped area senior citizens learn how to use the Internet and send e-mail. The result was an enjoyable program of intergenerational teaching and learning.

"This was one of the best programs we've ever run," says Patricia Crifo, president of the Coleman Home and School Association, which coordinated the program. "It was a win-win situation for everyone. The project wasn't that much work, and yet everyone left happy."

"Some of the seniors who participated don't have grandchildren close by; it was amazing how quickly they bonded with the students," Crifo adds. "The kids, who also got to know new people, were proud to be able to show off their technical skills."

In some cases, children were paired with a grandparent, but "the program also was neat for those students whose grandparents live far away," says Janice Lawless, the school's learning center teacher. "Conducting the workshop really helped build the students' self-confidence."


The Coleman HSA suggested the intergenerational Internet program as a way of welcoming senior citizens into the school, Crifo says. "We wanted to let seniors see what their tax dollars are paying for." When the presentation was proposed, 60 students -- about half the fifth-grade population -- volunteered. The students participated in a 30-minute workshop before the presentation, reviewing the topics they planned to cover.

The 40 senior citizens who signed up for the program were split between two 90-minute morning and afternoon sessions, so plenty of student help was available. The youngsters taught the seniors how to access the Internet, use a search engine, and bookmark Web pages. "The kids were very patient," says Coleman school principal George Connelly. "We explained to them that some of the seniors would be learning something completely new.

"The kids had a little script," Connelly adds. "They introduced themselves and told the seniors they didn't have to be computer whizzes to use the Internet -- they could learn to use a computer at any age."

"I think the seniors were surprised that the children were so knowledgeable," Lawless says. "Some of the seniors also showed the students things they knew how to do on the Internet."

School staff also participated in the program, passing out lists of Web sites that might be of interest to seniors and helping some of them set up e-mail accounts through the public library. HSA members served the seniors lunch in the cafeteria between sessions.


Initially, some of the seniors were nervous, but they all learned a lot, Crifo says. Muriel Krell, a community member who participated, says the Coleman program was her first experience with computers. "I thought the computer would run off with me or something," Krell tells Education World. The workshop, however, turned out to be "a warm, intergenerational experience," Krell says. "I needed it and I enjoyed it." Krell, who now has her own computer, plans to continue to use the Internet at home.

Coleman School first held the Internet sessions in the spring of 2001, but school construction prevented them from offering the program this year. The HSA is looking forward to repeating the project again next year, though. By then, the school hopes to have a computer projector and possibly an electronic white board to use in the presentations, and they hope to draw in even more community members.

"This project involved so much sharing of ideas," Crifo says. "The seniors had such a wide variety of interests -- they said what they were interested in and the kids helped them find it on the Web. For some kids, it was like, 'Wow, seniors are people, too.'"


Article by Ellen R. Delisio
Education World®
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