While many of the students at Phantom Lake Elementary School have never known life without computers, one room houses a club that holds classes for people who remember a non-digital age.
SeniorNet of Puget Sound, a computer club for seniors, is for people aged 50 and over in classrooms at the elementary school. Senior citizens who are volunteers with the club teach classes on common computer programs and tasks and hold open computer labs to help fellow seniors with their computer problems.
Mary Ann Wiley of Mercer Island often registers for classes, and likes to come get her computer questions answered during the open labs, which are free for seniors.
"The thing that appealed to me is that it's for seniors, and it's seniors teaching seniors," Wiley said. "It's more patient and one-on-one. And the tutoring is free."
This year is the 25th anniversary of SeniorNet of Puget Sound, which holds classes and open labs at Phantom Lake Elementary School. But the club will hold an anniversary celebration at noon Tuesday June 28. Click here for details on how to register for that event on SeniorNet Puget Sound's website.
The club -- part of SeniorNet branches all over the country and in Sweden, Malaysia and Japan -- has seen the progression from when the personal computer was a mystery to most households and modems were scarce, to the age of the internet, where people share photos instantly with their friends on their social networks. The Puget Sound chapter started after the late Jiggs Clark read a story in a magazine about the SeniorNet clubs, which started in San Francisco, according to the club's history.
While SeniorNet of Puget Sound's classes are of common programs and issues that anyone would have with a computer -- digital imaging, using Windows 7 or Excel - some classes are geared toward topics of special interest to older people. SeniorNet offers classes on travel website and writing personal life stories.
While the local SeniorNet club started out with people having to take turns on two computers, according to the club history, today, the club has a well equipped lab, with dozens of computers and flat screen monitors and a large projection screen at the front of the class for instructors.
Over the years, the club has purchased the computers through its classes and through grants, said organization secretary Joe Hesketh. The computer club members also volunteer to tutor Phantom Lake elementary students in math and reading through a program called GranPals, Hesketh said.
Gordon Young is a volunteer who has worked with computers since 1958. He worked at the Boeing Company for 37 years, he said.
"It's been a vocation and an avocation," he asid.
Young, who teaches digital imaging, photography and other classes, said that questions can be as basic as how to subscribe to a newsletter to computer problems that take troubleshooting to solve.
"I don't think there's such a thing as a 'common question,' " he said. "I ask, 'What do you want to do with it?' "
At a recent open lab, Agnes Russell of Bellevue asked for help with her new laptop.
"I'm a neophyte," she said. "I just have elementary questions about accessing websites and adding and deleting files."
""I think this is a fabulous service that the volunteers provide," Russell said. "They are patient and they're knowledgeable."
Wiley said that the classes have turned her from a technophobe into a more confident computer user.
"I've gotten over my panic attacks, just realizing that everyone here is still learning," Wiley said.