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The Cyber Seniors Program: Connecting Generations

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By Olivia Burns *

When my peers and I were first introduced to the idea of the Cyber Seniors Program, there were many different thoughts running through our heads. I was nervous about joining the program, because I’ve never worked with seniors before, and I didn’t have a lot of confidence in my teaching skills -- but there was also a hint of excitement mixed in there.

On the first day of Cyber Seniors, I was really anxious to meet “my senior,” I wasn’t sure if she would like me or my teaching style. However, as we were paired up with our seniors, my worry started to fade as we got ready to take our seniors on a tour of our wonderful school. As I stepped out of the classroom with my new “student,” Tina, I took a deep breath and we began the first day of our incredible journey.

The Seniors' Learning Journey

Throughout the 8-week program, the seniors learned many different things that continue to make a positive impact on their lives. They learned how to use e-mail, YouTube, Google, FaceTime and Skype, among many other things that will allow them to stay connected with their families and the world around them.

I am proud to say that my senior, Tina, accomplished her goal of learning how to use e-mail, YouTube, and FaceTime on her iPad. She can now stay in touch with her grandson in Shanghai via FaceTime. The seniors, however, were not the only ones that were greatly impacted by the Cyber Seniors Program.

The Teens' Learning Journey

I know that I’m speaking on behalf of all my fellow Cyber Trainers when I say that the Cyber Seniors Program made an unexpected (but huge) impact on our lives. For me, the program helped me gain confidence in my teaching and interpersonal skills.

I’m not always very outgoing around new people, but after the Cyber Seniors program, I’ve learned to “come out of my shell” more frequently. Because of Cyber Seniors, we as Cyber Trainers became better teachers and better leaders.

During the program, I didn’t realize what a huge impact this project would have on everyone involved. It is an incredible feeling knowing that you have helped change someone’s life by simply showing them a method of staying connected with families and friends.

When I stood back and looked around the library during one of the teaching sessions, I saw everyone smiling and laughing, engaged in what their senior or student was telling them. This made me realize that the Cyber Seniors program isn’t just about teaching; it’s about the moments of laughter and storytelling, the moments of joy when your senior accomplishes their goal of mastering email or YouTube, and the moments that make you both forget you're from two very different generations.

I think all of my peers would agree that the Graduation Ceremony held at the end of the program was the best part of the whole experience.

First Graduation

For Tina, this was her first graduation -- she explained to me that during the war, not many girls got the opportunity to finish school. Getting to see the excitement and joy on her face when I handed her the Graduation Diploma and having her proudly introduce me to her family was one of the best feelings in the world. Even though the graduation was full of laughter and smiles, everyone was trying to hold back tears. The ceremony that night signaled the end of our Cyber Seniors journey . . . or so we thought.

Nearly a year later after the project, we have continued to stay in touch with our seniors through email and have even gone to visit them at Cedarvale Lodge (our community's retirement and care home).

Lifelong Attachements

I never realized how attached I would become to my senior at the beginning of this program. Tina was the best student I could have asked for during the program and I loved spending the afternoon teaching her. While I taught her about using her iPad, she taught me many important lessons as well -- to laugh when I make mistakes, to love and accept people for who they are, and that you are never too old to continue learning.

This project became so much more than teaching seniors about technology. We laughed, we learned, we met new people, and most of all, we created lasting friendships with our seniors. Through Cyber Seniors, we were bridging the gap between two very distant generations.

This program changed me. I know it has made me a better teacher, a better leader, and a better person. Because we were piloting the program in Ontario, we were creating our own Cyber Seniors story as we went along. Our journey was full of laughter, triumph, happiness, accomplishment, and memories -- it was a truly unforgettable experience.

*This article was written by Olivia Burns, an 11th grade student at Keswick High School in Ontario, Canada -- as well as a trainer in the Cyber Seniors Program. She and other students were given the opportunity to participate in the Cyber Seniors project that was being jointly run by our high school’s leadership program and Cedarvale Lodge.

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