Sage Hill students help seniors stay up on technology

When Michael Justice didn't really take to gardening, he wondered what else he could do for his school service project.

All students at Sage Hill School, a private high school in Newport Coast, participate in community service as part of the curriculum.


Freshmen and sophomores get opportunities to mentor elementary school students, while juniors and seniors contribute to a cause of their choice or create an original project.

During his junior year, Justice helped build a garden in Ladera Ranch. But he said tasks like digging holes and raking leaves were missing something he was hoping to have — human interaction.

After he began volunteering at Laguna Beach's Susi Q senior center last summer, Justice and the facility's program director, Jo Ann Ekblad, talked about organizing free sessions to help people deal with their technology-related misadventures.

Once a month for the past six months, Justice, 18, and fellow Sage Hill seniors Jack Pelc, 17, and Henry Ficcadenti, 18, have visited the center to help senior citizens learn how to operate their smartphones, tablet computers and other tech gear.

Wednesday was their last three-hour Cyber Senior session. With Justice, Ficcadenti and Pelc graduating from Sage Hill this year, Ekblad hopes other students will step in.

"They've done so much and we've been especially pleased with their patience," Ekblad said. "It's that intergenerational connection that's really important to us."

Sage Hill student Jack Pelc, left, helps Sandra Weiss use a photo organizing app on her smartphone.
Sage Hill student Jack Pelc, left, helps Sandra Weiss use a photo organizing app on her smartphone. (Don Leach / Daily Pilot)

Lance Novotny, a teacher in Sage Hill's Service Learning Program, said the projects are meant to give students confidence in their entrepreneurship and ability to help the community.

Laguna Beach resident Skipper Lynn, 86, arrived at the Susi Q on Wednesday with a plethora of questions about her iPhone.

"All I use it for is to make phone calls," Lynn said. "But I want to learn more."

Justice sat with Lynn to show her how to use her phone to send a text message, check the weather, read the news and order a monopod for her digital camera.

Pelc, Ficcadenti and Novotny guided seniors through inquiries on topics such as setting up a security passcode and deleting unwanted applications.

Novotny occasionally turned to the students to help him with tech questions he was unsure of.

Before Lynn left Wednesday, she asked Justice one last question about her iPhone.

With her finger hovering over the email inbox icon, she asked, "Now, how many emails will this be able to hold?"

Justice replied: "Oh, it'll hold a lot. Let me show you."

He pulled his iPhone out of his pocket to show Lynn the number of emails in his inbox — more than 32,000.

The two shared a laugh.

Twitter: @AlexandraChan10