The old saying "what goes around, comes around" is being exemplified in a gorgeous little program at the .
Seniors ranging from their 60s to their 90s, who have taught life skills to their children and children’s children, are now, in turn, being tutored by volunteer teens in basic computer skills.
There is something very endearing about seeing a 13-year-old head bent next to an elderly one, both engrossed in sharing and learning and both enjoying the unlikely pairing.
One teen tutor found that her senior student used to be her piano teacher when she was a small child. It just goes to show that "what goes around, comes around" and you never know which side of the action you will later find yourself on.
Audrey Stamm is one of the seniors in the program. Stamm’s late husband was an early computer user. He and her two sons were always pushing her to learn to use the computer, but Stamm resisted for decades.
“I would say 'do you want to make dinner and dessert while I learn?' and that would stop them immediately,” Stamm recounts, gleefully.
When Stamm’s husband died, her sons both helped her with e-mails.
“The first I heard about it was when I phoned my son in Ohio and he told me he had just been taking care of my trash bin. I couldn’t work out how he had been doing that from Ohio and he had to explain that it was the trash on my computer he was talking about, not the trash in my yard,” Stamm said, laughing.
So when Stamm saw the course advertised at the library she came in without telling them to see if she could learn. According to Stamm, this caused some family stress.
“One day, my tutor told me to bring in a friend’s e-mail address to practice sending an email," Stamm said. "In the subject I put ‘Judy don’t feint’, and then I told her that I had finally succumbed to this high-tech nonsense."
Her friend hit reply and sent her back a message. A few minutes later Stamm’s son, who had been working on Stamm’s e-mails, called her frantically and said "Mom, I don’t know why Judy has e-mailed you but she’s fainted, you’d better get over there fast!"
Stamm still laughs thinking back on it.
Now Stamm goes online each morning to get news, e-mails and her bridge scores and again in the evening. She e-mails her oldest son and her daughter-in-law and grandchildren.
“It’s a good means of communication. I don’t feel threatened by it any more. I don’t find it hard at all, they’ve taught me so well,” she said.
Harrison librarian Marilyn Horton introduced the program.
“Senior citizens are a group who have been left out of the information revolution, and they don't like that," Horton explained. "In Harrison, where senior citizens are highly educated people, they are eager to learn this communication tool.”
Horton said both students and teachers have taken to the role reversal enthusiastically.
“This program puts the teens, who have always been students, in the ‘teacher’ position. These new teachers are very patient and interested in the learner really understanding, and the learners—being new students who have not been in this position for a long time—are eager to understand," Horton said. "The seniors have expressed to me time and time again what a valuable service they think this is and how wonderful their young tutors are, and the tutors are just as enthusiastic."
Stamm’s instructor, Will Barnwell, who is enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program at Harrison High School, backs this up. The curriculum requires participation in the CAS (creativity, action, service) program, which requires public service hours from students to ensure a well-rounded graduate.
For Barnwell the computer tutoring was a perfect fit to complete the service component of his program.
“I already do it for my family, so I figured why not do it here as well,” he said.
Barnwell said he was surprised to find that he also really enjoyed spending time with the seniors and helping them.
“It's fun—I like doing it. It’s easy for me and I feel that I am really making a difference,” he said. “Plus, they love telling stories and I’ve learned a lot from them. One of my students was a nanny for ambassadors and traveled all over the world and has some great personal stories from that time.”
Stamm is a big fan of her high-school-aged tutor as well.
“Will is so knowledgeable and nice and patient—I can't say enough good things about him. This program is terrific, the half hour goes by so fast," Stamm said. "And they make it easy—it’s like computers for dummies!”
When asked what she would say to seniors who are nervous about signing up for the program, Stamm says they should overcome their fear and “get with it!”
“If they’re frightened of their computer, just come in and take these lessons," she said. "Then when they get home, they can just stand up as they’re typing. They’ll see they’re a lot bigger than their computer so if anyone should be afraid it should be the computer of them and not the other way around.”
Both Barnwell and Stamm leave their sessions with broader knowledge, a good feeling and smiles on their faces.
It’s another volunteer program where both sides get so much more than they ever signed up for.