Fifth-Graders Help Seniors With Computer Basics


(Sunday, May 20, 2007 10:23 AM EDT)

For most Patrick Henry Elementary School fifth-graders, e-mailing, working in Microsoft Office and surfing the Web come naturally.

That isn't the case for some of Arlington's senior residents, and the students are stepping in to help.

Through a partnership with Walter Reed Senior Center, Patrick Henry offers computer classes for seniors, with fifth graders as their one-on-one instructors.

The classes are part of the school's Exemplary Project program, which incorporates the curriculum with service to the community. Students learn about topics such as responsibility to the environment and citizenship, and then find a need in the community and apply what they've learned.

“We have these kids who know so much, and the seniors have a lot of computer needs,” said Exemplary Project coordinator Susan Spranger. “We wanted to do something there was a need for, not just something we wanted to do.”

“I like teaching because I get to understand and help seniors who have trouble,” said fifth grader Izaak Grant. “And service learning is good, because you're helping the community.”

Before taking the class, the seniors fill out a survey to determine their skill levels and interests. The fifth graders then use this information and tailor their teaching sessions to what their partner wants to learn for the day.

“They're pretty knowledgeable,” said senior participant Richard Hall. “I enjoy it because I can learn something.”

If the seniors have a question their partners can't answer, the school's technology coordinator, Colleen Flaherty, is on hand as a reference.

The classes, which started in January, are held once a week on a monthly basis. Students are trained to teach by explaining verbally rather than doing everything for them. They focus on skills such as e-mailing and using search engines and Microsoft Office.

“If they don't understand, I talk to them and take them step-by-step,” said fifth-grader Adam Salmeron. “Then, I get them to try it themselves.”

“Sometimes they don't know the vocabulary, like ‘click' or ‘scroll.' They seem so everyday for us, but foreign to them,” said fifth grader Mairead Bartlett. “I say the vocabulary words and tell them how to do it on the computer.”

There are usually between two and four seniors who participate in each monthly session. The fifth graders are chosen by their homeroom teachers based on their expertise level, patience, friendliness and communication skills.

So far, students and seniors have had positive experiences working together.

“What I've been surprised by is the real connection between the kids and their senior partners,” Spranger said. “Sometimes you wonder about the inter-generational divide, but their best qualities - patience and kindness - come out when working with the seniors.”

“I really enjoy it because being with them is fun,” said program participant Hadley Hutchens. “They're carefree and funny, in a way.”

Patrick Henry fifth-graders Mairead Bartlett and Hadley Hutchens help Richard Hall bone up on computer skills.
(Photo by Kristen Armstrong)

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