Students and seniors work together in the Lower Cape May Regional High School 21st Century Office Skills class.

Dale Gerhard

LOWER TOWNSHIP — Peg Lipsett went to class at Lower Cape May Regional High School on Wednesday morning to learn all about computers.

You could say Lipsett is in the senior class. She’s 75 years old.

“I learned Google. I was on the MSN website, and I created an email,” said Lipsett, clearly proud of her new skills.

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But the neat thing about a class that matches advanced high school computer students with local seniors could be that both sides learn something. Casey Grace Shuman, 18, a senior from the Villas section who was Lipsett’s personal teacher, seems to understand the limits of the machines that she said can be so intimidating to the elderly.

“Nowadays people are so involved with computers they don’t know how to talk face to face,” Shuman said.

This is a class where people separated by many decades, complete strangers at the outset, talk face to face. Lipsett and Shuman are 57 years apart and hit it off right away in the 21st Century Office Class taught by Mary Rose Bispels.

The class began inviting seniors in once a week this year, but its genesis was last year when a township official noticed six computers at a local senior citizen center were never in use. He called the school and students came over to the senior center to offer instruction. This year the seniors were invited to the school, about one dozen at a time.

Bispels also uses the class to teach office skills to her students, such as listening techniques, proper handshakes, eye contact, suitable introductions and telephone etiquette.

“Each student has to call their senior using call skills you’d use in an office and telephone skills. I gave them a script to follow. The following day they sent thank you letters. We taught them the difference of speaking with seniors as opposed to talking to fellow students,” said Bispels.

Lipsett said she actually has a computer at her home but she doesn’t “really bother with it.” She said her children are constantly telling her to use it. She decided she should at least learn the basics.

“She’s easy to work with. We get along great, and it’s really fun,” said Shuman.

Lipsett plans to use the newfound knowledge to keep in touch with family members and learn more about what’s going on in the community. Shuman taught her how to get onto both the township and the school district websites. Lipsett said she intends to go home and teach her husband what she learned.

“We’re very thankful to the school for doing this,” Lipsett said.

Sophomore Bobby Munizza, 16, worked with Bob Coll, 74, of North Cape May. Coll described his computer skills as “limited” when he arrived.

“I would correspond on email and that was about it. He taught me the Internet,” Coll said.

Munizza had Coll, a retired salesman, on the school, township, MSN and The Press of Atlantic City websites. Coll, who retired here from Landsdale, Pa, was excited to learn he could follow high school sports in his former home town on the computer.

Munizza also created a free Outlook email address for Coll, who had been paying for the service, and taught him how to use search engines. Next week Coll will bring a camera and Munizza will teach him how to send pictures.

“I’m interested in sending my kids pictures. Occasionally we get a photo from them and don’t know how to handle it,” Coll said.

His wife, Marie, was under the tutelage of senior Jabria Walker, 18, of North Cape May. Marie Coll, also 74, learned how to cut and paste, use a calendar and download information.

Coll was a little unsure about taking the class but said there was no way she would let her husband know more than her. The retired teacher struggled at the end of her career trying to put grades on one of her school’s first computers.

“We had to do report cards on the computer. I was one of the first ones in the district to get on a computer, and I worked day and night at it. Of course, my grandkids have no problem with computers,” Coll said.

Again, getting the generations together seems to have some extra benefits.

“I learned I might go to college. She talked me into it,” said Walker.

The seniors also were taught to create a flier in Microsoft Word and use a spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel. Superintendent Jack Pfizenmayer praised the program as a great way to get the community involved with the school.

“That’s what we love to see. It’s a perfect opportunity for people who haven’t been involved in school for quite awhile to see what’s going on. If they like what they experience. they’re going to go out and talk about it in the community,” Pfizenmayer said.

Maybe they won’t actually talk about it. Maybe they’ll just shoot out an email.

Contact Richard Degener:



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