BRISTOL — Mount Abraham Union High School has launched an impressive array of educational programs in the past few weeks.
With support from an e-Vermont grant, which supports computer literacy in communities across the state, as well as a grant from the Rowland Foundation, Mount Abe has opened its computer labs to the public — and its dedicated staff is collaborating with local community organizations to capitalize on the space’s availability to foster educational opportunities and conversations on many levels.
At first, said librarian Laura Mina, the primary focus was “to fill a sort of niche in the community. Bristol has needed more access to Internet than what is currently available.”
Then, the school realized it could take its mission several steps further.
Under Mina’s and e-Vermont director Helen Jordan’s leadership, the Mount Abe library is in the process of becoming something of a community hub, providing a space where community members can gather to extend their knowledge on many fronts — including, but not limited to, the use of the Internet and computer resources.
“We’ve added other components to the program,” Mina said.
To start with, classes on Internet and computer skills were organized, called “Tech Tuesday” and “Try It Thursday.” A student taught the courses, and anyone who wanted a crash course in computer literacy could come to learn on Tuesdays, and use the computer lab to practice on Thursdays.
The classes included basics like setting up an email account and conducting a successful Internet search, among other skills that may come naturally to those who have grown up around computers, but can be understandably difficult for those unfamiliar with computers.
“They’ve been wanting to get that knowledge, and to see somebody have that success of understanding is pretty cool,” Mina said.
Another program that was made possible by offering expanded hours was “Wednesday Tea and Talks,” in which community members were invited to come to a gathering in the library and discuss topics as diverse as art projects, study abroad trips, and non-=profit work in the area. On a recent Wednesday, a Mount Abe graduate returned to talk about her semester abroad in Ecuador.
High school students will also directly benefit from keeping the space open. Seniors will be able to take a college course in biology, taught by UVM, in the Mount Abe computer lab during spring semester. Though Mount Abe is hosting the course, anyone is welcome to register, said principal Andy Kepes.
On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Myrna Lopez, a resident at the Living Well Residential Care home in downtown, was having a one-on-one computer lesson with Hayley Slayton, a Mount Abe senior who taught the technology course as volunteer work.
Lopez, whose grown-up son lives in California, was learning how to use the computer so that she could Skype with him from the desktop computer that Living Well had recently purchased
But first, Lopez and Slayton explained, they were going over the basics. This was their second lesson.
“We learned how to log on, and shut down,” Lopez told me. “I thought starting from scratch, starting from the beginning, I could work my way up to it.”
Lopez worked for an insurance company in southern California for many years, and learned how to use computers for her job. But that was a long time ago, and computers themselves have changed a lot over the years. Lopez said she is finding her lessons with Slayton helpful in refreshing her memory.
They concluded their lesson by printing out a recipe. In a few lessons, Hayley is confident that Lopez will be Skyping.
Sudeshna Trivedi, an Americorps VISTA volunteer at Living Well, hoped that the program between residents and Mount Abe students would continue for a long time. Trivedi has developed a training program for students interested in working with the elders, and emphasized the importance of the program for residents.
“It’s exciting for them,” Trivedi said.
Naturally, often the people who come are Bristol residents. But Mina has also seen some from Lincoln and Starksboro. And though she acknowledged that getting the word out about the space’s availability is a process, she had already seen results. Though the numbers are not yet at the rate that she would eventually like to see, the venture is only just starting out, and it takes time for information to spread by word of mouth. In the meantime, there is definite community interest.
“People are showing up to the space,” Mina said. “It’s feeling more and more like a community hotspot.”