Our town: Lawrenceville Retired IT tech teaches seniors how to navigate cyberspace

It’s a noisy classroom, with an almost constant buzz of students offering each other tips, directions and explanations. The teacher frequently has to raise his voice to give instructions. And everyone is glued to the 12 desktop computer screens in the room.

This isn’t a middle or high school classroom crowded with jittery teenagers. Instead, it’s a room of 17 senior citizens, ranging in age from the 60s into the 90s, who are getting their first lessons on how to navigate the cyber seas. It’s one of several sessions offered through the Gwinnett Senior Learning Center, a volunteer-led organization that teaches adults over 50 about the online world.

Topics include spreadsheets, photo editing and word processing, but this particular class, Windows Essentials, is all about the basics. It’s offered at the Bethesda Park Senior Center in Lawrenceville, where lead instructor Richard Porter and a team of six coaches take senior students through two-hour classes held once a week for seven weeks.

Porter, a retired teacher and IT tech, has been teaching the classes since 2005 and helped write the manual each student receives.

“It’s all about getting people comfortable on the Internet,” said the Lilburn resident. “We work the class to go with what they’re interested in, but most want to learn about e-mail and the Internet.”

Most of Porter’s students are driven to get online by their children or grandchildren, who want to share news and photos in e-mails and Facebook postings instead of stamped envelopes. One couple in the class, great-grandparents in their 80s, signed up after getting a laptop as a Christmas gift from their family.

“The grandparents want to see what’s happening with the kids through e-mails and sending and receiving pictures,” said Porter. “But they come here scared to death with a fear of the unknown.

Most are afraid they can’t do it, or they’ll screw it up. The first day, I have them look at the keyboard to find the destruct key, and there isn’t one. Once we teach them how to use ‘undo,’ they’re okay.”

Valerie Crozier took her first computer classes through the center in 2000 after she retired from teaching. Now, she and her husband, Doug, are both class coaches.

“I wanted to be able to communicate with my friends,” said Crozier. “I even had and 80-year-old uncle who was online. I can talk to my grandchildren stay up with what’s going on. Now I’m taking a course in ancestry that uses the computer.”

Snellville resident Edna Day had another reason to get online.

“I watch cooking shows on TV, and I want to be able to get their recipes from online,” she said. “I heard about these classes from an ad in my doctor’s office, so my husband, Jack, and I decided to give it a try.”

Porter encourages the seniors to play around with their computers at home to gain confidence.

“What they’re always most surprised at is that they can do this,” he said.

Registration for the next session of classes begins on Tuesday at Bethesda Park and Wednesday at George Pierce Park in Suwanee. Information: 770-564-4699 or www.gsrlc.org.

Each Saturday, we shine a spotlight on a local neighborhood, city or community. To suggest a place for us to visit, e-mail H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or call 404-514-6162.