Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In a Cyber Community, Children and Seniors Learn from Each Other

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In a Cyber Community, Children and Seniors Learn from Each Other

Article excerpt

Jim Walters and Billy Hughes had a vision. The faculty members at Phoenix College in Arizona wanted to create a way to bring students and adults together via computers in a community-like setting.

The reason: A growing number of at-risk, inner-city students were experiencing isolation - at home and in the classroom. Of those kids who continued on to college, many lacked the skills and attitude needed to succeed.

So, Mr. Walters and Mr. Hughes created Pueblo, a virtual world where students could communicate with adults and other kids in a cyber community. Pueblo is a text-based world - almost like a cross between an online chat and an adventure-fantasy game, but all words. Users create characters and settings and other textual description-cum-creations, such as houses, pets, and cars. There are also specific places for activities such as rooms for games and contests. One part of Pueblo focuses on putting children in touch with older adults. Called "K Through Gray," the collaboration includes Phoenix College, Longview Elementary School, and adult mentors, who live independently or are part of adult day-care programs or nursing-care facilities. "In Pueblo, we all assume a persona," explains Mary Armacost, a retired banking systems analyst. "The one I chose is BrerRabbit. Here is this old lady conversing with a second-grader named HotWheels." After some initial training, most of the adults find Pueblo an easy place to navigate. "When I started this program over a year ago ... I was an amateur with computers and even typing," says Loretta Matheson, who calls herself Marmar (grandmother). "Now, it's fun for me," she says. "The children are so eager to learn, and both sides teach each other; sometimes the children do more teaching than I." While people of all ages and locales can register to be in Pueblo, the K Through Gray program has added particular enrichment to seniors' lives. "In Pueblo, there are no 'isms,' " says Rose Pfefferbaum, director of gerontology at Phoenix College, reciting a favorite quote. …

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