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Teacher Shows His Students How to Tame a Computer

Linda Feldman is a Santa Monica-based free-lance writer whose Seniors column appears biweekly in The Times

It’s never too late to learn. Stradivari created his last and best violin at 92. Colonel Sanders started his Kentucky Fried Chicken business at 66 and by 70 had 400 franchises. Tolstoy learned how to ride a bicycle at 67 and celebrated his 70th birthday by cycling for 20 miles.

Perhaps even Tolstoy, though, would have been intimidated by his first encounter with a computer--unless his teacher was Georg Stern. At Santa Monica Emeritus College, Stern brings warmth and humor to his beginning computer class for seniors. Stern, 66, who retired from the Los Angeles Unified School District after teaching for 40 years, has a Ph.D. in education, master’s degrees in education and theater, and an undergraduate degree in German.

His interest in computers began 10 years ago when he was asked to set up a system for running summer schools in Los Angeles. He never intended to become a computer teacher but says he was fascinated when the opportunity presented itself.

“I love what I’m doing,” he says. “It’s fascinating because my students are older. Some of them are looking for jobs, some want to keep up with their children, some still want to learn.”

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He talks about helping his students get over their fear of the “biting keyboard” or the “exploding monitor,” and convinces them in the first lesson of the nine-week course that they can’t hurt the computer. Students learn at their own speed, there are no tests or evaluations and many students take the course several times.

Rochelle Soifer, 74, signed up for the class because she felt ignorant. “I have a son who is a professor at Caltech and he sits home and works at the computer. My granddaughter is 14 and she works at the computer. And I didn’t know a thing, so I’m curious about it because it might also be helpful to me.” Soifer is the treasurer of the Jewish Blind of California.

Brenden and Beth Camberg, retired and in their seventies, decided to take the class together. Beth is retired from a company where she built computers but never knew how they worked. “I got to the point in my life when I wanted to learn things that I never had a chance to learn,” she said.

Brenden Camberg also enjoys the challenge. “Once we get the hang of it, we’ll buy one because you’ve got to keep your mind active,” he said. The Cambergs are the only married couple in the class of 36.

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Then there’s Lillian Fisher who admits to being “very senior.” Although the class helps with her bookkeeping job, she says, “The real reason I’m here is that I don’t want my daughters to be smarter than me.”

The entry-level computer class, called Senior Employment, is so popular that its four sections are full. Stern admits, “It’s more difficult learning at this age, but seniors really want to be here. They’re so enthusiastic. I just speak a little louder, go a little slower, write bigger and am patient.”

Emeritus College, started in 1975, is a college for seniors. It serves more than 3,400 students and offers over 100 classes--most of them, like the computer class, are free. All seniors are welcome. For more information, call the Emeritus office at (213) 452-9306 or stop by the office at 1334 Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica, Room 205.

Services and Events

Open House--WISE Care Center, 1530 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, will have an open house March 22 from 1 to 3 p.m. The center provides day care for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and services for their families. Information: (213) 394-9871.

Financial Seminar--Culver City Senior Center will present a seminar on Social Security, tax-free income, banking and the savings and loan industry March 15 at 1 p.m. with a financial consultant. Information: (213) 202-5856. The center is at 4153 Overland Ave.

San Diego Trip--OASIS (Older Adult Service and Information System) Travel Club will visit the San Diego Wild Animal Park March 21. ($34). The club also is planning a trip to Spain and Portugal in April. And for armchair travelers, there is a Travelogues class starting Monday. Information: (213) 938-4211, ext. 2794.

Aging Parents--Support group will meet at the Pico-Robertson Storefront, Jewish Family Service, for eight Wednesdays beginning Wednesday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. The group offers the opportunity to discuss relationship issues like communication, guilt and responsibility, decision-making and life transitions with elderly parents. For information, call Marilyn at (213) 271-3306.

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Arts Lecture--"The Heritage of Arts and How It Has Shaped Civilization” is the subject of the latest lecture in the University of Southern California Emeriti College Lecture Series, Wednesday in Culver City, 2 to 3:30 p.m. Information: (213) 202-5856.


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