Mt. Lebanon middle schoolers help elders master computers

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Lucille Giles of Mt. Lebanon had never sat in front of a keyboard before she attended her first computer lesson at Mellon Middle School in Mt. Lebanon last week with her 12-year-old tutor.

And despite the fact that she struggled to learn about the caps lock, scroll bar and the @ symbol and had a bit of trouble controlling the computer mouse, she was not deterred from the mission that brought her to the class: to have a Facebook page.

"I am going to shock my daughter and my grandchildren. I want my daughter to say, 'You are not going to believe what our mother did today,' " Mrs. Giles said.

She was being patiently tutored by Luke Giles, a sixth-grader at Mellon Middle School who is no relation to Lucille. Luke is among about a dozen or so students of business information technology teacher Deanna Amenta who have volunteered to stay after school for an hour each Tuesday to help senior citizens learn computer skills.

The free classes, which started in December, are popular with seniors, many of whom are excited about getting onto social networking sites to connect with grandchildren and out-of-town family and friends and to keep track of what's going on in the world.

"It's like a whole new world is opening up to me," Mrs. Giles said.

For Joan Grimm of Mt. Lebanon, last week's class was her second lesson, and she came hoping to learn how to create a folder in her Google mail account for recipes. She had set up the Gmail account in her first lesson with Michael Fedel, 14, and his sister, Hannah, 12.

But instead of creating a Gmail folder, Mrs. Grimm learned about Pinterest and its ability to allow her to keep multiple pages for various categories of recipes and to search for the recipes of her favorite chefs and see photos of the food produced by the recipes. She also learned that she could share her recipes on her Pinterest page or hit a key that keeps some in a private file.

"I got a wonderful apple pie recipe and some ideas for home decorating. This is going to be good because I'm into cooking and I entertain a lot," Mrs. Grimm said.

Mary Louise Davis of Mt. Lebanon was being tutored by Anna Zak, 12, a sixth-grader. Mrs. Davis said Anna showed her a number of "tricks" such as how to delete a number of emails at a time rather than clicking individually for each one and how to "clip and paste" pictures and words. She's hoping to use those skills to post items to a Pinterest page when she gets one established. She'd also like to have a Facebook page.

"In my email, someone will come up and want to be a friend, more often than not they are people I know. So I'd like to be able to [do] it and make comments back to them," Mrs. Davis said.

Sixth-grader Luke Morgan, 12, served as tutor for his grandmother Betty Wiktor. Mrs. Wiktor has already learned the basics of how to send and receive email and how to go online and read news and was ready to move onto Twitter.

But when she asked her grandson about setting up a Twitter account, he responded more like a parent than a grandson. "No, you don't want to get caught up in that," Luke said.

Luke said he thought there was too much nonsense on Twitter for his grandmother to follow. "You don't want to hear about who's going where and who's doing what," he said.

But Mrs. Wiktor said she wanted to use her account to follow the big news trends of the day, such as the pope's resignation and President Barack Obama's State of the Union address. She said she thought it also might be a useful tool for keeping in touch with her friends in other parts of the country and in Canada. She said they recently sent her emails warning her of a big snowfall heading up the East Coast.

A tweet could be an efficient way to let them all know that she was safe from the storm.

The arguments appeared to prompt Luke to change his mind on whether his grandmother could have a Twitter account.

As for Mrs. Giles, she said she planned to purchase a computer this week and was planning her surprise for her grandchildren soon. "The fun is about to begin. I'm going to find out my grandkids' email addresses, and they will be shocked when they have an email from me."

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Mary Niederberger: mniederberger@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1590.


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