published Thursday, July 18th, 2013

Trading favors For volunteering at Hamilton County iZone schools, seniors get computer lessons

Susie Shimel, left, receives computer assistance from Shawanna Kindrick, family partnership specialist, as she verbally calls out Web addresses for neighborhood senior citizens during a free computer class Wednesday at Orchard Knob Middle School. Sam Scott, third from left, watches the exchange.
Susie Shimel, left, receives computer assistance from Shawanna Kindrick, family partnership specialist, as she verbally calls out Web addresses for neighborhood senior citizens during a free computer class Wednesday at Orchard Knob Middle School. Sam Scott, third from left, watches the exchange.
Photo by Tim Barber.

It was a simple trade. Orchard Knob Middle School offered a free computer class for senior citizens. In exchange, the seniors agreed to volunteer at least 10 hours helping at the school -- a swap that each side saw as a bargain.

Seniors needed the class to catch up to today's technology. Everything from bill paying to shopping is quickly migrating online. But what comes easily to kids and younger adults -- texting, word processing, surfing the Web -- can scare off some members of the Greatest Generation.

So this class hit the fundamentals, like what each piece of the computer is, what each key on the keyboard does.

"We had to go real basic. We had two that were scared to even touch the mouse," said Tre High, a computer technician at the Howard School who volunteered to teach the four-day course.

After going through the Web and learning programs like Microsoft Word and Excel, the 10 participants said they felt more comfortable working on computers of their own.

"I didn't even know how to turn one on before I came here," said William H. Clark, 70, who said he's now encouraged to start using the home computer he's never touched.

But participants weren't the only winners here.

Orchard Knob Middle School sees a benefit from pulling in community members and getting buy-in from adults who otherwise may have been disconnected from the school. School leaders hope the seniors will stay, become a positive force and continue to pitch in and cheer on students.

And that kind of support, school leaders say, will be crucial if Chattanooga's most troubled schools are to see real improvement and rise above their historically low academic performance.

Orchard Knob is one of five Hamilton County iZone schools, a grouping of struggling schools. With the designation, the county received a state grant worth more than $10 million to implement programs, add staff and pay teachers more in the turnaround effort.

While the iZone work is mostly focused within the five schools, officials say they need help from parents, grandparents and residents outside of the school setting.

"We know it takes the whole community," said Principal Crystal Sorrells.

Orchard Knob's computer class was a small piece of a $20,000 grant from the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga. The school also is working to provide other resources for families, such as basic finance classes, GED courses or even help finding employment. Because when parents are taken care of, Sorrells said, students are more likely to succeed at school.

On Wednesday, participants in the computer class slowly pecked on keyboards with their index or middle fingers. They practiced their Microsoft Excel skills by building a spreadsheet of each other's names, phone numbers and email addresses.

That's a big improvement, considering many came with limited or no experience on a computer.

But for 82-year-old John Kilpatrick, the four-day class that wraps up today was more of a good first step.

"I think I'm going to need a little more help," said Kilpatrick, who learned about the class at his barber shop. "I'm kind of a slow learner and I'm no spring chicken."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

about Kevin Hardy...

Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...

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