(photo by Jill Bock, Staff)
NEW MADRID - Youngsters weren't the only ones heading back to class this fall. Senior citizens are returning to the classrooms, taking seats opposite computer screens as they tackle 21st century technology.
Ten senior citizens at New Madrid County R-1 Technical Skills Center just completed a six-week class on basic computers. Charleston Public Schools also is offering an adult computer class this semester.
"It's been an awesome learning experience," said Mary Arbuckle, who took the class at New Madrid County R-1. "I'm glad they had the class for older people - we are slower and I think with computers we want to make it so hard and it is really simple."
R-1 instructor Jim Russell's goal was just that - to make it simple for the seniors and to make it fun.
In his six-week class, he introduced them to the very basics, including how to turn the machine on. Russell then covered topics from terminology to saving to diskettes to surfing the Internet.
A high school teacher as well as teaching the evening adult class, Russell found he must make certain adjustments for his older students.
"I try to slow the whole process down. It is something that is totally unfamiliar to them and they have to rethink how things are done," he said. "And a lot of things we take for granted, like moving a mouse and double clicking, is hard for them to do. Sometimes they have to learn different techniques."
Glenda Stahl said she appreciated the slower pace, adding: "I've learned so much and I have a lot to still learn."
With the class size limited to 10, Russell was able to move easily from computer to computer when problems would arise and to provide one-on-one instructions. As part of the weekly two-hour sessions, the teacher would distribute hand-outs for students to take home to review their new skills.
Russell said his goal is for the seniors to understand they can use a computer. "A lot of times you see them and you know they are thinking they can't do it, but then by end of the class they are going great guns. That is what I like to see."
For Clark Comedora, the class is the opportunity to do more than play solitaire on his home computer. "This has been an experience to learn what I have available."
He said he is planning to sign up for an advanced class. With a daughter in Florida, Comedora would like to learn more about e-mail.
The amount of information available on the Internet is what Jeannette Haubold said she finds attractive about computers and led her to the class. With her computer she said she now reads several newspapers each day on-line.
Melinda Miller, technology coordinator for Charleston, has both current and retired teachers in her computer class this semester. Next semester, she said, the district plans to offer a computer class strictly for senior citizens.
Miller said she enjoys teaching the senior adults. "They are so interested, dedicated to show up on class on time and ask questions," she said. "They are really good."
While Russell, who previously taught a senior citizens computer class in East Prairie, made some adaptations for his senior students he finds them just as curious as the younger ones who fill his classroom.
"Adults are a little more fun to teach at times; they are eager to learn," he said.
His younger students are interested in what their elders are learning as well, Russell said. He recalled one of his high school students looking over a hand-out expressed amazement about his senior citizens' class.
"I reminded her that you are never too old to learn," he said with a laugh. "And it is important. Everyone needs to understand computer skills and with seniors, if you are learning, your mind is active and that will make your life healthier."
For more information about computers classes for senior citizens contact the New Madrid County R-1 Technical Skills Center or Charleston Public School's Board of Education Office.