All posts by Melody Gutierrez

Technology links Sacramento-area first-graders, retirees

During a video call Wednesday, Kohler Elementary first-graders greet Eskaton Village residents, including Roland Evans, at left on-screen and Betty MacKinnon, center. The kids celebrated their 100th day of school by interviewing Evans while the centenarian wore a hat they made for him. Teacher Bobbi Donovan sits with the kids, and Principal Kelly Grashoff, far right, watches on a laptop.

It didn’t take long for Bobbi Donovan’s first-grade students to shed their hesitation and greet their new pen pals.

Within minutes of meeting, kids from Kohler Elementary School in North Highlands were climbing into the laps of residents at Eskaton Village, a retirement community in Carmichael.

In October, each of Donovan’s 26 students was assigned a resident in the assisted living unit at Eskaton. The kids now call them “buddies.”

The kids met with their buddies at Eskaton in December and over the course of the school year have used Skype, an Internet video calling service, to stay in touch.

“I think it’s a great program,” said Betty MacKinnon, 92, who has two buddies in Donovan’s class. “All my grandchildren are grown, so I love it.”

Besides forging relationships, the program has been a teaching tool for Donovan and Adam Hill, Eskaton’s assisted living activity coordinator.

The children practice their reading and writing by sending letters, e-mails and Christmas cards – and by reading books – to the Eskaton residents. Eskaton residents, meanwhile, are learning to use computers.

On Wednesday, Donovan’s students celebrated the 100th day of school. They interviewed 100-year-old Roland Evans on Skype and wore handmade hats with 100 things drawn on them. They made a hat for Evans.

Kids took turns asking Evans questions. They asked him what it feels like to be 100.

“You feel quite old,” he answered.

Students asked what kinds of things Evans did when he was in first grade.

“I paid attention to the teacher and learned to spell words.”

The class also read a book about the 100th day of school to Eskaton residents.

The kids will visit again Feb. 9, to present stories they wrote about Eskaton residents. The Kohler kids and Eskaton residents hope to arrange several more visits before the end of the school year.

“They are very curious,” said Evans, who worked for the Franchise Tax Board before retiring. “They are very impressed that I’ve lived to be 100. I’m less impressed.”

Donovan’s sister, Betsy Donovan, is the executive director at Eskaton Village. The two came up with the idea for the exchange, hoping it would become a learning tool and teach the kids about aging. Neither expected it would be so fruitful.

Eskaton is “focused on people getting a better understanding of the aging process,” Bobbi Donovan said. “This has been wonderful for all of us to learn.”

Eskaton sponsors the outings, providing a bus, T-shirts and lunch. Betsy Donovan said the outings are worth the $250 price tag.

“That’s really the only way we are able to do this,” Bobbi Donovan said.

What surprised the sisters was how quickly the kids’ hesitation disappeared. Bobbi Donovan said she had talked to her class about being gentle with the residents.

“On the first day, the kids were walking up hesitant, thinking ‘You’re an older person, I’m not sure,’ ” Betsy Donovan said. “Then in 10 minutes they were on their laps, hugging them. It was just amazing.”

Many of Eskaton’s 400 residents had successful careers. The 15 assisted living residents participating in the Kohler Elementary exchange are retired physicians, teachers, state workers and others. During the visits, they tell kids how important it is to try hard in school.

“We want this to be a prototype for Eskaton and senior communities generally,” Betsy Donovan said.

“Already, in a short amount of time it has gone beyond what I could have imagined.”

Eskaton has 35 communities from Sacramento to the Oregon border.

The residents have been excited to learn computer programs like Skype and are finding other uses for it outside the Kohler program.

“They never knew that the capability of being able to talk with their son that lives in Alaska was there,” Hill said. “Especially, for free.”

From front left, Savana Clark, Luz Martinez Lopez and Jessamine Taylor and their North Highlands classmates shout goodbye to the retirees in Carmichael.

Using Skype, an Internet video calling service, a computer links Kohler Elementary students with residents of Eskaton Village in Carmichael. The Eskaton residents are finding other uses for Skype, too, such as talking long-distance with relatives – for free.

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Twin Rivers district turns to student interns for computer help

Omar Morales, a recent graduate of Foothill High, installs computer wires under the desks at Martin Luther King, Jr. Technology Academy on Tuesday.

Computer wires sat tangled on the tile floor while hardware waited for repair. Each classroom at Martin Luther King Jr. Technology Academy needed attention from Twin Rivers Unified School District information technology workers.

Instead of turning to costly vendors or overloading district support staff, Twin Rivers brought in high school interns to help prepare the technology-focused junior high, which is fitted with computers at all 32 student desks in all 35 classrooms.

And the results have district staff and the teens smiling about the partnership.

The teens are gaining valuable work experience in a $8 per hour internship paid through the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency. And the district is receiving a considerable discount for the services.

“This is fun. I love doing this,” said Andrey Becherskiy, 16, who will be a junior at Grant High School in the fall.

Kevin Hall, a computer systems specialist for the district, said getting the computers in good operating shape before the new school year would have taken weeks longer if not for the help of the four interns who have worked with him through the summer.

Two more interns were added after their custodial internships ended. Another intern has spent her summer working on the district’s Web site.

This is the first summer Twin Rivers has placed teens in information technology internships.

The idea stems from a pilot program at Foothill High School. Last spring, Foothill started MOUSE Squad of California, a student-run IT help desk that offers the district computer support while training students.

This fall, Foothill plans to build on the MOUSE Squad, which comes with its own curriculum. After further training, Foothill hopes to offer community members computer repair services and also will accept e-waste for recycling.

The district plans to expand the MOUSE Squad to other high schools in the future.

“These kids are working side-by-side with our IT department,” said Sarah DiRuscio, director of instruction and information technology. “They are setting up computer labs and getting hands-on technology experience that can be used in the real world.”

Becherskiy said he probably would have spent his summer bored at home if not for the internship. Now, he says he’s saving for a car.

“I get money and I learn more stuff,” Becherskiy said. “It’s great. I’m really glad I got a summer job.”

Becherskiy said fixing computers at the junior high has had its surprises. He showed a souvenir – a razor blade – he recently recovered from inside a computer.

Most of the computer problems are normal wear from repeated use by junior high kids, although it’s not uncommon to find items shoved into a USB port or discover other mischievous acts.

“Some kids take their frustrations out on the computers,” said Jeremy Briggs, manager of computer support at the district. “They end up (needing repairs) after a month. We continually have to put more manpower into it. With the work these (interns) have done, it’s going to make it to where we don’t have to come in. Everything will be more durable and the school won’t have to spend as much money on equipment.”

Andrey Becherskiy, a junior at Grant High School, does maintenance on a computer station router. Morales and Becherskiy are paid IT interns for the Twin Rivers Unified School District, which said getting the computers ready for the new school year would have taken weeks longer without them.

IT interns Omar Morales and Gennadiy Moskalenco work on computer wiring Tuesday morning at Martin Luther King, Jr. Tech Academy. The internship program was inspired by a pilot program at Foothill High School called the MOUSE Squad. The Twin Rivers Unified School District plans to have the Foothill program assist the community with its computer repair needs and accept e-waste for recycling.

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