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Bridging the technology generation gap

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Eighth-graders teach senior citizens how to use their electronic devices through the Teen Elder Computer Help program


HOLLY SCHOLZ/CENTRAL OREGONIAN
 - Crook County Middle School eighth-grader Brittany Atkinson helps Bob Boyce set up an e-mail account on his new Chromebook as part of the Teen Elder Computer Help program through Council on Aging of Central Oregon. She has also helped Boyce work his 'dumb' phone - a flip-phone.

How do I send an e-mail from my new Chromebook? How do I transfer photos from my phone to my laptop? How do I get rid of junk mail?

These are just some of the questions that eighth graders have helped senior citizens answer recently through Teen Elder Computer Help — or TECH.

“TECH helps senior citizens connect with family and friends digitally, while bringing those seniors together with teens in ‘real time’ to learn from one another,” says Laurie Hoyle, development manager of Council on Aging of Central Oregon. “Crook County is a perfect place for a forward-thinking, technology-driven, intergenerational program like TECH. With support from Facebook, and by partnering with Crook County Middle School, we’re pleased to welcome seniors to TECH.”

Last spring, Council on Aging Information Specialist Melissa Melby contacted CCMS Assistant Principal Kimberly Bonner, asking if any students would be interested in helping teens teach seniors how to use their technology.

Bonner asked her staff, and Becky Carter stepped up. Carter is an eighth-grade language arts teacher and also teaches the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) college-readiness elective.

“A good portion of the AVID program is teaching your students to be servants to their communities and to be leaders,” Carter said. “I thought what a perfect opportunity for these guys to really own something themselves. They’ve absolutely loved it.”

Through TECH, senior citizens become current and comfortable with technology, enabling them to access information and connect digitally with family and friends.

HOLLY SCHOLZ/CENTRAL OREGONIAN
 - CCMS eighth-grader Ashley Christensen helps Arlene Spannaus with her new Android smartphone during a TECH session last Friday morning.TECH also helps teens develop teaching skills while providing service to a population often overlooked in the digital world. They teach seniors how to optimize use of their computers, laptops, tablets, and phones and how to navigate social media, the internet, e-mail, text messaging and other applications.

After reading an article in the Central Oregonian about the program last spring, 14 local senior citizens signed up for the free program, and after passing background checks, were invited to come to class this fall.

They meet for an hour, two mornings a month, in the CCMS library. The 24 AVID students take turns working with the seniors, with two eighth-graders work with one senior for each session. A handful of seniors have attended each of the four sessions held so far.

“I have always been shoved aside with our grandchildren — don’t you understand? Don’t you get it?” said Martha Mayers, of Prineville. “We don’t find that with this group. They’re respectful, they give us pleasure when we catch on — and we’re even more happy!”

Last Friday morning, Gabriel Saenz helped Mayers dump her junk e-mails on her laptop.

“We do a lot of great things in AVID, but one of my favorites is working with the seniors and helping them learn how to use their iPhones and computers,” Saenz said.

Across the room, students Weston Milliron and Brittany Atkinson helped Bob Boyce set up a gmail account on his new Chromebook.

Boyce said he joined TECH because he needed help with just about everything, and there’s still more he needs to learn.

Milliron said the TECH program is beneficial for adults but also the students who are doing the teaching.

“I can see the program being a long-term system to help AVID students teach, learn and give back to their community,” he said. “I really enjoy the feeling that you are giving back to the community.”

Prineville senior Arlene Spannaus has attended all four TECH sessions and enjoys the class and the young people. She says she gets more out of TECH than she has from other classes she’s taken.

“They don’t think we’re stupid, that’s the nice part. They don’t act like we’re dumb. I love them all,” she said.

On Friday, Ashley Christensen was helping Spannaus find her e-mail contacts on her brand new Android smartphone and then helped her use e-mail on her laptop. Christensen said the program helps teach the seniors about their generation.

HOLLY SCHOLZ/CENTRAL OREGONIAN
 - Crook County Middle School eighth-grader Gabriel Saenz shows Martha Mayers how to delete junk e-mail on her laptop during a TECH session Friday morning in the CCMS library.“It might be hard for our parents and grandparents to understand what our generation is like now,” Christensen said. “It’s always nice to help our community understand and get them involved with what our generation is like now.”

Other senior participants agree that the program helps bridge the generation gap and encourages the students and seniors to respect one another. Some say the program works because they get to take their problems to the students and get individual help.

Last spring, Council on Aging received a $2,000 Facebook Prineville Data Center 2016 Local Community Action Grant for the TECH program. Melby, from Council on Aging, said the funds are used to buy new equipment and to cover TECH staff time.

Eric Price, a computer technician for the school district, attends each TECH session to offer guidance when students may not know how to help a senior.

“Mainly for elders, it’s how not to get scammed,” Price said. “Pop ups on the internet and what to do with them and what not to do with them.”

Carter says there are not enough senior participants yet for all 24 of her AVID students to help in each session, and her students miss the seniors when it’s not their turn to teach.

“Every time I’d go to the classroom to check on them, they’d say, ‘Can we go down and say hi to so-and-so?’” Carter said.

Seniors age 60 or older who are interested in attending the free TECH classes at CCMS may contact Melby at the Council on Aging, 541-678-5483, ext. 109.

“We’re really hoping to expand it,” Melby said. “Every time somebody new signs up, I tell them to tell their friends and neighbors. We’re trying to definitely get bigger.”

Teen Elder Computer Help

Seniors may register for upcoming sessions by contacting Melissa Melby at the Council on Aging; 541-678-5483, ext. 109 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. TECH is offered at no cost to seniors.