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Cyber Seniors Project aims to connect

In this class, students are the tech savvy teachers

It's two o'clock on a rainy Thursday and the Cyber Seniors Project class is in session at the Amica at Barrie retirement home.

Grade 7 and 8 students from Monsignor Clair Elementary School are settling in with their students - seniors eager to learn how to master technology in order to get connected. 

Marie Kelusky, who turns 87 next month, is playing Scrabble on an iPad with her teacher, 12-year-old Emma Triskle.

"The kids are wonderful and so friendly and so nice," said Kelusky, whose children had installed the Scrabble app but the senior didn't know how to access it.

Emma loves working with her 'grandfriend' Marie.

"It's so awesome. We're learning from them and they're learning from us. Sometimes it's not all about the technology it's about having the connection," said Emma. 

"A lot of them have picked it up very quickly. Sometimes it can be a little challenging. It takes a while. You have to speak a little louder."

The Simcoe Muskoka Integrated Fall Strategy (SMIFS) applied for funding through New Horizons for Seniors and received $25,000 to purchase 46 iPads and cases.

These first sessions are 12 weeks with students and seniors meeting once a week for about an hour. 

Lessons start with the basics - how to turn on the device and swipe - then expand  to text, email, video calls and eventually Facebook, Netflix, Youtube.

"The purpose of this is to increase connectedness to family, friends and community. Now more than ever seniors are becoming isolated because they are disconnected from not only their children but their grandchildren because we're using technology more and more," said Sarah Orr-Shaw, a Public Health Nurse with the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit.

"A lot of seniors are so excited to have the possiblity to join Facebook because their grandkids are on Facebook.  Grandkids don't pick up the phone anymore these days."

Twelve-year-old Jacob Attwood is teaching his 81-year-old student Len Knox how to get rid of junk mail.

"He's doing pretty good," said Jacob, who has previous experience as a tech teacher.

"I had a couple problems with my grandma trying to do stuff on her computer but she's 91."

Knox's grandchildren also try to school him on his devices but he says the Cyber Senior class is better for learning.

"This is slower and I can absorb what's happening. Do one thing at a time," said Knox. 

The program allows the kids to explore leadership roles, socialize with seniors to build respect and learn some history.

Monsignor Clair teacher Kevin Mackay says the program is win-win for the seniors and their young tech mentors.

"Students get a sense of value and purpose and a chance to shine in the seniors' eyes," said Mackay. 

"The special part is when the senior's journey in life comes and melds with some of the experiences the kids have. That's when the magic really happens. The really cool intergenerational stuff comes alive when they start to share stories and memories and history."

Mackay would like to see the program continue and grow to multi-media projects with students and seniors and have seniors Facetime in a classroom and be part of a lesson.

The students will present an online scrapbook of their memories of the experience in June.

Orr-Shaw is thrilled with the community project that's currently in six facilities. 

"It's a beautiful thing," she said. 

For more information about the Cyber Seniors Project call the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit  705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520  ext. 7808.




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Sue Sgambati

About the Author: Sue Sgambati

Sue has had a 30-year career in journalism working for print, radio and TV. She is a proud member of the Barrie community.
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