EarthLink Program Bridges the Generation Gap With Technology

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One reason the creation of the Internet was so remarkable was its ability to provide a faster way to keep people connected worldwide. Now, a new program is helping to promote connections using the Internet in a different way. GenerationLink by EarthLink connects high school students with senior citizens from the community who want to take part in technology. "The goal is to teach the senior citizens basic Internet skills, but along the way we also want to foster a greater intergenerational understanding," says Dan Greenfield, EarthLink's vice president of corporate communications.

First launched in an Atlanta high school last fall, the current GenerationLink project is underway at Maynard Evans High School in Orlando, Fla. A group of 10 seniors from the Hal Marston Senior Center visits the high school weekly for hour-long classes where they learn basic Internet skills such as e-mailing and searching the Web. The skills learned help the seniors visit their hometown newspapers' Web sites, research news about health care and prescription drugs, and stay in touch with their families by receiving pictures of their grandchildren via e-mail attachments. "The idea is to demystify technology [for the seniors]," says Greenfield. "Technology is new to the seniors — they may be scared of it — but it is natural, almost second nature, to the students."

The students at Maynard Evans chosen to participate in GenerationLink are part of the Professional Educators Academy, a program that works with students who are interested in becoming teachers. Jennifer Bohn, the academy's coordinator, sees the value of technology as an intergenerational connection tool. "For those of us who grew up during the wave of technology, I believe we take it for granted — its easy access and efficiency make our lives easier," she says. "Technology is something that knows no physical age; it can unite people everywhere."

After completing the six-week program, the seniors are able to continue using the technology skills they learned though GenerationLink at their senior center. And the students of Maynard Evans have time to reflect, documenting their experiences with the program in an essay to be entered into a contest where EarthLink will award one winner a $1,000 scholarship. EarthLink looks to expand GenerationLink to additional cities, hoping to create a network where schools can share information and build connections between more students and seniors.

For Greenfield, the success of GenerationLink is largely due to the remarkable connections technology made happen between two groups that probably wouldn't have met in the first place. Emerging from this experience, both sides have something to share and acquired something new. "The seniors share some of their wisdom, while the students share their technical expertise," he says. "Technology is the best vehicle for students to be empowered to make a difference in the senior's lives."

Annamaria DiGiorgio

This article originally appeared in the 01/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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