Gila Community College Expands Reach Into Pine

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Pine Strawberry senior citizens devoured the first session of a computer class at the library. It filled in seven minutes.

“We had people waiting in line for the door to open,” said library manager Becky Waer. She opened an afternoon session, and that filled in two days.

“That’s 40 slots,” Waer said. “That was quite a bit.”

Two sessions of a second class have also filled, and more classes are planned.

Through a $45,700 grant from the Arizona State Library, Waer purchased 22 laptop computers, chairs, and a rolling security unit to hold the computers at night.

The brand new, 17-inch screens allow the small communities of Pine and Strawberry to access the knowledge and technology residents are seemingly so eager to embrace.

Pamela Butterfield, Payson dean of Gila Community College, is working with Waer to provide class instructors, and seniors age 55 and older are eligible for free tuition through the college.

“For us, it’s a great opportunity to serve an area of the community we haven’t connected with yet,” Butterfield said.

The first class, “Getting to Know Your Computer Using Vista” — Vista is a Microsoft Windows operating program — was held in four sessions during the first two weeks of November. Students learned how to personalize fonts and mouse settings, about memory space and organizing files and folders.

“I got to turn the pointer black,” said Dennis Ashcroft, 62, about the onscreen mouse pointer. Ashcroft is taking both classes, as are most of the students.

“All of us old people think it’s pretty good,” Ashcroft added.

Seniors have filled two sessions of a second class — an Internet how-to — which will begin in December. If the five-person waiting list grows, Waer said she will add a third session.

“The world is turning and like the grant says, we’re being forced to use the computer for everything from banking to travel,” Waer said. “If they (seniors) want to book a flight to go see their grandkids, they’re going to have to use a computer.”

After Waer meets the requirements of the grant, which is aimed at seniors, she plans to offer full-fledged, three-credit computer classes for the general community in concert with the college. That could happen next fall.

A genealogy class, independent of the college, is planned for spring.

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