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The Computer Age

e-buddies Jen Racine and Barb Baldwin

BARB BALDWIN FELT THE FEAR BUT she did it anyway. "Young people aren't afraid of computers. My generation is; they're afraid they're going to make a mistake and crash it or something." Luminus caught up with Barb and her senior classmates in the computer lab in the warren-like Facilities Management Building at Memorial University. Barb is part of a creative program to bridge the gap between kids who communicate over the internet as if it was a second language and an older generation that is often left speechless by the technology. Through a simple yet innovative partnership with St. Kevin's High School in the Goulds, Memorial is creating multigenerational email buddies. "Introduction to the Internet and E-mail", one of a series of computer courses offered by Memorial's Division of Life Long Learning in conjunction with the Seniors Resource Center, pairs seniors over the internet with Level 1 high-school students.

Mike Foley is the IT instructor who helped launch the e-mail buddies idea. He says the university isn't just a place where kids go to get educated and move on. "My oldest student was 86 years old and had never used a computer. He actually continued and did several other courses… Once people get over their initial hesitancy they do quite well." And many of them are highly motivated.

Lorna Hackett is proud to be part of this program. "There were several things I promised myself I was going to do when I retired and computers were first on my list."

Computers weren't part of her culture growing up, says Mary Purcell, a retired teacher and another enthusiastic member of the "Introduction to the Internet" course. "So I think this is an excellent opportunity to learn all about it." It's late March and she and the other "senior students" in this class are off to St. Kevin's to meet their young e-mentors.

At St. Kevin's High School our e-seniors took part in the fourth annual Seniors' Project Day. The Introduction to the Internet and E-mail class is here to join the party and meet their e-mail buddies. Barb's e-mail correspondent is Jen Racine. "Even though my computer course at Memorial is over, we still e-mail. We've become friends," says Barb, arm-in-arm with a smiling Jen.

The music class is jamming at the front of the resource room and everyone's enjoying fries and sandwiches. Gerry Mercer, another Level 1 student, not only helped his e-mail partner Maureen Clooney get over her computer fears, he taught her web language, like g2g for "gotta go." The polite young man, who Maureen describes as "open and thoughtful," is wearing mesmerizing "wolf-eye" non-prescription contacts. He says the program is a way for seniors to see "we're not all that bad."

Winter 2003 classmates in Introduction to the Internet and E-mail

The e-mail buddy system seems to challenge stereotypes on both ends. "Sometimes young people have a picture of seniors being, well not exactly what all of us are," explains Lorna, who doesn't look very "senior" at all in a bold red top and matching lip-colour. "The vice-principal at St. Kevin's, Tony Power, BA'94, B.Ed.(Secondary)'95, M.Ed.'01, calls us recycled teenagers. And I think that's a wonderful expression for all of us." Winter 2003 classmates in Introduction to the e-buddies Jen Racine and Barb Baldwin