Middletown students share ‘Tech Time’ with seniors

Computer Science Club co-founder Landon Resendes helps Ellen Heffron navigate her iPad, from using web browsers to using the camera.  (Photo by Kelsie Crough)Computer Science Club co-founder Landon Resendes helps Ellen Heffron navigate her iPad, from using web browsers to using the camera.  (Photo by Kelsie Crough)

Computer Science Club co-founder Landon Resendes helps Ellen Heffron navigate her iPad, from using web browsers to using the camera. (Photo by Kelsie Crough)

Middletown High School students recently completed a program designed to bridge the digital divide between seniors in the community and new technology through an after-school initiative called “ATEL Tech Time.”

The volunteer-based program took place in six-week periods during which students met with seniors once a week at the Middletown Senior Center, from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. During the sessions, seniors presented a problem with their electronic device, and the students walked them through the problem. It was the first time Middletown schools were involved in Tech Time, and the program will return to the senior center in the fall.

The project was created in collaboration with Middletown High School and the newly formed Computer Science Club, the Middletown Senior Center, the Rhode Island Adaptive Telephone Equipment Loan (ATEL program) and the Rhode Island Assistance Technology Access Partnership (ATAP). The ATEL program is state-run and provides telephone and wireless services to people with disabilities. Additionally, ATAP offers a statewide partnership of organizations whose mission is to assist, improve access to, and acquire technology for individuals with disabilities.

According to Denise Corson, ATEL program coordinator, Tech Time began as an initiative with Narragansett High School in 2019 as an extension of the University of Rhode Island’s Engaging Generations: Cyber-Senior Program. Students who wish to participate in the program must complete a two-hour online course from URI’s Cyber-Senior Program, which discusses the most common tech issues affecting seniors and how to address them.

Tech Time has been on hold since 2020 due to the pandemic. The program was relaunched in January with Mount Hope High School and then in Middletown in March.

“We were very excited that Middletown was so eager to participate in the program and that they were able to get their Computer Science Club students to embrace this much-needed support to help bridge the digital divide,” said Corson.

The Computer Science Club, which was founded in 2023 by juniors Landon Resendes and Charlie Greengrass, was eager to take the opportunity to work with seniors.

“You need people who actually take the time and come and help with whatever it is. And we take our time. . . in the comfort of the Senior Center,” Resendes said.

State ATEL Committee Member Alicia Moore said working with Middletown students has been great, with one of the largest groups of seniors returning to Tech Time each week.

“It’s a great group of students. Always on time, always showing up with a great attitude, without complaining,” she said. “They are very involved and focused on what the seniors are looking for.”

“I am so amazed by these young people,” said Arleen Kaull, executive director of the Middletown Senior Center. “You just don’t see their mannerisms towards our seniors anymore.”

Greengrass said most of the questions seniors come in with are related to the use of Facebook, email and web browsers.

The seniors weren’t the only ones who learned something during Tech Time. Greengrass said he gained confidence in himself, along with lots of life advice, from hearing the stories of local seniors.

“It really helped me grow as a person and the seniors grew as well,” he said.

Resendes said working with seniors made him realize that things that seem like simple, everyday tasks to him, such as sending a message or taking a photo, can be time-consuming and difficult for others.

“We’re all in our own bubble,” said Ann Larson, advisor to the Computer Science Club. “(This) expands your community just 20 minutes at a time.”

She said a start date has yet to be set for the fall episode of Tech Time and potential new students can register for the high school’s annual club fair.

Resendes and Greengrass would like to expand the program beyond the six weeks, have it implemented more locally and integrate it into their senior projects next year. Both said they would recommend the program to any student who enjoys helping others.

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