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Originally published Wednesday, December 12, 2007 at 12:00 AM


Tech-savvy teens teach computer skills at library

When Sno-Isle Libraries opened a new Monroe Library in 2002, the staff hoped to reach out to the community with new services. One idea was to...

Times Snohomish County Bureau

When Sno-Isle Libraries opened a new Monroe Library in 2002, the staff hoped to reach out to the community with new services.

One idea was to pair up tech-savvy teenagers with senior citizens who often either didn't have a computer or didn't know what to do with the one they'd just purchased. With a small grant from the Everett Community Foundation, the library created its Tech Teens program to connect seniors with access to computers, e-mail and the Internet.

Five years later, almost 300 senior citizens in the Monroe area have gained computer literacy from local students whom librarians praise for their community service and surprising patience.

"A lot of seniors will tell us that their kids or grandkids have tried to teach them how to use a computer, but they go too fast. The seniors really appreciate the time and personal attention our teens are able to give them," said Laura Baker, technical liaison for the Monroe Library.

Unlike older libraries in the Sno-Isle system, the Monroe library was built with a dedicated computer area that features a master-training computer capable of taking over eight nearby computer screens.

The teenage volunteers demonstrate basic techniques such as how to use a tool bar or scroll down on a screen, directions that can be opaque when described by a commercial computer support technician over the phone.

While one student trainer directs the lesson, assistants help individual users at their computer terminals.

The 90-minute class is offered once a month. Seniors are recruited from a nearby senior center and assisted-living homes in the area. Baker said many of the seniors have no experience browsing the Web or evaluating the biases and reliability of the sites turned up during an Internet search. Some have never used a mouse. Some want help to browse the libraries' online catalog.

Almost all want to set up an e-mail account so they can communicate with children and receive photos of grandchildren or other information, Baker said. Some who've taken the class are trying to update their skills for new jobs.

For the student trainers, teaching the computer classes fulfills a portion of the 20 hours outside the classroom required for their culminating project senior year. The students say they like seeing the light go on in the seniors' eyes.

"I see their joy at having an e-mail address or searching sites," said Florence Lai, a sophomore at Monroe High School who has volunteered the past year.

Sohaib Hussain, a ninth-grader at the high school, said he's returning the favor extended by a teacher at Fryelands Elementary in Monroe who went beyond computer basics with her class.


"My fifth-grade teacher helped give me experience. Now I get to help out people who need help," said Hussain. "It's my way of saying thanks."

Evaluations collected at the end of each class show the seniors value the teens' efforts.

"Great job," said one, though another, asked to rate his or her level of confidence to send and receive e-mail, said, "Not that great yet!" while still giving the instructors high marks.

Hussain remembers one man who came up to him at the end of class. He took his hand and kept shaking it.

"For quite a bit," Baker said.

Lynn Thompson: 425-745-7807 or

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