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adults learn new computer skills
|By JEAN ZEHRINGER GIESIGE
When the Buckeye Apparel clothing factory in Coldwater closed in 2000,
Buckeye employee Theresa Boeckman didn't know what she was going to do next. Boeckman, 31,
of Coldwater, had a high school diploma, but no further formal education. She knew there
was a whole world outside of the factory, but she didnšt know how she was going to find
her place in it.
Then Boeckman heard that Buckeye workers would be eligible for
financial aid to take a course in business and computer technology at Tri Star Career
Center, the vocational school that serves high school students and adults in Mercer and
Auglaize counties. Boeckman didnšt even know how to turn a computer on, but she bravely
signed up for the course. What the heck, she thought, it was free and it might help her.
Boeckman arrived at the door of the adult ed classroom in the same way
a lot of people come to the Tri Star program, said adult education coordinators Lynne Ray
and Lisa Sheppard: a little scared, worried, nervous, anxious, and ready to take a big
leap into a new frontier.
"We get everybody in these classes," Sheppard said. "In
one seat we might have somebody who is 30 years old and wants to broaden their job
opportunities by learning Word (a word-processing program). In the next seat we might have
a 70-year-old grandmother who wants to learn how to e-mail her son in Texas who bought her
a computer and then went back to Texas without teaching her how to use it."
Tri Star offers short-term evening classes that cover specific
like Windows, Word and Excel, or computer skills like using a digital camera or buying and
selling items on e-Bay. Class sizes are kept small, usually at 12 students, and are
usually full, especially this year, Sheppard said.
"Usually we start out slowly in the fall, but this year, for some
reason, wešre getting all kinds of people signing up. So we just keep on adding
classes," she said.
Some people start with the most basic course, Computer Literacy.
"That's the one that's starts out with definitions, like, this is
a hard drive," Ray said. "And then we take apart a computer and look at the
inside. We teach the outer edge of the keyboard, the hard stuff that makes a computer
keyboard different than a typewriter. On the third night, we get on the Internet and
cruise around." Some students build on the classes, beginning with Windows and
moving on through the other programs as their schedule allows. Others who need a more
focused approach sign up for Tri Star's business and technology course, which runs from 9
a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, November through May. It's more like
traditional school, with a twist, Ray said, because they know they're not dealing with
"We start later in the morning, because we know people need to get
their kids off to school," she said. "If weather causes a school cancellation,
wešre canceled, so that people don't have to scramble around for a babysitter."
The transformation among the students in the long-term program is
amazing, they said.
"I can't even count how many people have come in here from a closed-up
factory who don't even know how to turn a computer on, and walk out six months later with
a Microsoft Office User Specialist certification," Ray said.
That number includes Theresa Boeckman, who joined the long-term Tri
Star class in November 2000.
"I didnšt even know how to use a mouse," Boeckman said.
She was able to master the programs taught in the class, which include
Word, Excel, PowerPoint and QuickBooks.
"The first couple of weeks were overwhelming, but it got better
because everything wasn't thrown at us all at once," she said. "That class
really helped me. It gave me the confidence to go out and find something that I really
wanted to do."
Last October, Boeckman accepted a job in the loan department at
Community First Bank. She now also works part-time as an evening adult education
instructor at Tri Star, where she completely understands her students' jitters the first
time they click on the wrong box in Word and see their text disappear.
This month, she is teaching a beginning Word course to a class of 11
people that includes her mother, Judy Wilker, and her twin sister, Tracy Keeling, both of
"We saw what Theresa could do and thought that if she could do it,
we could do it," Wilker said.
Just about anybody can do it, Ray and Sheppard said, if they can get
over their reluctance to place their first call to Tri Star to sign up.
"A lot of people say, 'I donšt want to be the dummy in the
class,' " Sheppard said. "But there generally isn't a dummy. People bring
things to the table. One person might be really good at finding files, somebody else might
be really good at typing in Internet addresses. And they all help their neighbor. So
instead of two people feeling like dummies, you've got two people who feel like teacher's
Neither Shepherd nor Ray set out to become technology instructors. Both
have backgrounds in marketing. Ray worked in quality control at a local factory for 12
years. Sheppard worked in marketing at a local bank.
Now, a large part of their job includes keeping abreast of changing
technology so the program continues to offer what people need.
"When we make up our class offerings, we read the job ads to see
what local employers want. If there are lots of references to QuickBooks, we know that
people need to learn that program," Ray added.
As more and more people use computers at home as well as at work,
Sheppard and Ray also keep track of new gadgets. Last year they added
digital photography to their course offering. Next, they're planning a class
in the use of Palm Pilots.
It's a race to keep ahead of technology, they said, but it's one they
"Some people sit around at night and watch television. We sit
around at night and get on the Internet," Shepherd said. "Being a nerd has come
For more information on Tri Staršs adult education classes, contact
Sheppard or Ray at 419-586-7060.
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