Finding connections: Lenox seniors get smartphone lessons from high school students

Ariana Roberts, left, and Karen Fulco at the Lenox Community Center.

LENOX — Karen Fulco was hesitant to purchase her first smartphone last year, but staying connected to her family, especially her four grandchildren, remains one of her top priorities in her retirement years, she says.

To Fulco, 78, she values hearing a voice on the other side of a phone call over seeing a text notification pop up on her new Android smartphone. She admits when she first bought a cell phone, it stayed in its original box for “a few months” before she finally opened it and turned it on.

But with the help of students from Lenox Memorial Middle and High School (LMMHS) and the town’s Council on Aging, Fulco and other local seniors are taking advantage of free semi-weekly classes to learn how to best utilize their smartphone.

Teaching Fulco at her latest half-hour session was Ariana Roberts, a junior at LMMHS. Arriving at the Lenox Community Center directly after school, Roberts led three, one-on-one, half-hour sessions going over the basics of how to make a phone call, browse the internet and send an outgoing text message. The classes have been up and running since 2014, according to Sue Holmes, the outreach/senior services coordinator at the Lenox Community Center.

“A lot of seniors are out and about,” Holmes said. “They will use it for emergencies, as well as for texting with their grandchildren, for email and to use FaceTime with family members. A lot of people are pretty tech savvy.”

More than 20 different seniors have signed up for the individual tutoring sessions in the past few months, with many returning for multiple appointments, according to Holmes, citing the popularity of the program. Typically, all six weekly appointments are booked, with seniors awaiting the high school students to get out of school to begin the tutoring sessions.

At her most recent half-hour appointment, Fulco practiced typing on her smartphone using its internet search function, trying to remember the steps she took to get to her Google searches.

“I used to type … but I’m not really typing you know,” said Fulco.

“Like on a keyboard?” asked Roberts.

Fulco replied, “No … like on a Smith Corona typewriter.”

Roberts got involved with the free smartphone tutoring program last year, she says, when she attended a Student Council luncheon at the Lenox Community Center. For the most part, she says, she’s had success with teaching seniors about their smartphones after getting over the initial hurdles and fears of a new technology.

“At first, it’s hard to get them to be familiar with technology in general,” Roberts said. “It’s also fun. I like talking to people. I like meeting people. I think it’s nice to get to know the seniors around here too.”

Fulco, a former teacher at the Center School in Lenox, says she’s often been paired up with students who come from local families that she once taught in elementary school.

A resident of Lenox since she was 19, Fulco said that she once her Roberts’ great aunt in one of her classrooms.

“Everybody that I’ve had as a tutor, I’ve mostly had their parents in second-, third- or fourth-grade,” Fulco said. “If not their parents, their grandparents.”

With the addition of her new smartphone, Fulco says it has been a joy to hear from her family members who call her. But since starting to use it for its calling features, Fulco has questioned the need for her wired home phone service. Paying nearly $60 a month for the landline, Fulco says it has become her mission to use her cell phone as her main point of contact for all phone calls.

“That’s $660 a year,” said Fulco. “Now, I’m documenting how many calls I get a month from friends and family … probably four of them are from Sue Holmes reminding me of my appointments here.”

Roberts said that her family has gotten rid of the house phone line, opting to use their personal cell phones instead. The National Honors Society student said she got her first cell phone when she was in sixth-grade.

“It was at that point where most of my friends had phones and we were all begging for phones from our parents,” Roberts said. “Sixth-grade was basically our start and for most kids now in middle school. They all have iPhones, even in elementary school, it’s crazy. We’ve completely grown up with it.”

Smartphone tutoring sessions are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3:30 to 5 p.m. To learn more about smartphone tutoring classes at the Lenox Community Center, call 413-637-5535.

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