Retired Wausau Teacher Creates Senior Tech Class

Retired Wausau Teacher Creates Senior Citizen Tech Class
Posted on 07/20/2020
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Retired Wausau teacher creates tech class after seeing senior residents isolated

By Stella Porter

Published: Jul. 19, 2020 at 6:39 PM CDT
Updated: 16 hours ago

WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - They say the best teachers never stop teaching. Retired Wausau School District teacher Kelly Johnson is a prime example of that. When the pandemic hit, most classrooms emptied out. But Johnson's classroom came to life with non-traditional students, proving it's never too late to learn something new.

Kelly Johnson works as assistant property manager for Island Place Apartments in Wausau. But she takes on responsibilities beyond what the job title describes.

"I always add 'slash social coordinator,' because a lot of my job is the social coordinating and finding activities for residents," Johnson said.

In March, many of us traded human connection for connection to the internet. But Johnson noticed a disconnect. Not everyone could participate in the virtual coffee dates she scheduled.

"Not everybody had email, not everybody had a device that would allow them to easily use the technology to be able to connect online," she said.

The building had just installed WiFi for everyone, but some were isolated from the world of the internet.

“I have three sons that live all over the country, different parts of the country, and they have children. They like to send pictures, but I’ve not been able to do that. I have to rely on my daughters who are here,” said resident Sandra Pierson.

To fix that, Johnson created a socially distanced tech class for seniors in her building, taught twice a week in the Island Place lobby. At one class, neighbors were learning how to use Zoom and hearing from health experts on a Zoom call about using telehealth on their devices.

Teaching seniors reminds Johnson of teaching middle school.

"The residents are fun because they've got a great sense of humor, they're a little bit snarky, they like my corny jokes," she said, laughing.

Because of help from the Aging and Disability Resource Center and money from the Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin, the laptops aren’t just loaners. Each senior’s Chromebook is theirs to keep, after an application process made sure they were in need of assistance purchasing a device.

The classes are not without some obstacles, especially when it comes to the fine motor skills needed to move the cursor, but Johnson is helping residents work through difficulties.

“Some of them have tremors or a little bit of a shake. So for some, we went out and I bought mouse pads and I arranged with my dad to find some used mice for us,” she said.

Some residents have had issues seeing the small keys, and Johnson says they’re discovering gel covers to make the font easier to read.

“I don’t think I am where I should be. I don’t understand everything. I’m having a little problem with Facebook, but I’m not all that interested in Facebook,” said Pierson.

As she learns more, Pierson will get to see pictures of her family.

“I’m looking forward to being more in touch with them,” she said. “I think I’m mainly going to want to use it to get information, to Google information.”

Johnson says the most rewarding part is what she calls the “cha-ching moment,” when a concept clicks in the minds of her students.

“Learning is learning, no matter how old you are, and I’m just so proud of them to want to continue learning,” she said. “Lifelong learning is just so important.”

Johnson says she’s now working to expand the program to rural areas that might benefit from the 10-class curriculum she created.

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