Spring 2003

San Diego Cyber Y: This Is the Life!
by Sharon AlHourani

Who would have thought that I would get to play for a whole year? I joined AmeriCorps*VISTA August 2002. My year is approaching the half way mark and I am still having a great time.

I am at the Cyber Y Technology Center in San Diego, CA. We are a part of the Youth & Family Services Department of the YMCA. We serve poor and underserved families in the North Park area providing computer learning courses and open access. We have a variety of participants, but mostly young Hispanic families with one or both parents working.

kids in computer lab

It was great to go from hearing the children cry, "My computer doesn't work," to using computer programs to draw monsters, cut and paste pictures of their favorite heroes, and play the most sophisticated video games.

We started a Cyber Y Afterschool Kids Club last fall for 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. JCPenney was good enough to fund the program. We meet twice a week, and not only do the children learn computer skills, but we have tutoring sessions for the ones that need help with their homework. Since I started my service the end of August, I hit the ground running. My first task was to come up with a plan of action, and that turned out to be quite a challenge. Most of the children are native Spanish speakers and have not been in this country for very long so their reading skills are still being developed. We needed a program that would be lots of fun and not too frustrating for them. It was great to go from hearing the children cry, "My computer doesn't work," to using computer programs to draw monsters, cut and paste pictures of their favorite heroes, and play the most sophisticated video games. I think I have the most fun when I am searching for new and inventive things for us to do in class. If I can find a Harry Potter game or a Treasure Island game with really terrific graphics, that the children can learn to use the controls, follow directions, and improve their dexterity—boy, what more can I ask for?

My partner at the Cyber Y, Adrian Valdez, and I have learned that it is very difficult, due to the different levels of maturity, to have the younger children and the older children in the same class. The older children were ready for a much more challenging program. While the older children were willing to help with the younger ones, they really needed more creative space. In our next session we will have the 5th graders in a separate session. I have also asked the teachers at the local elementary school to have some input into an online tutoring the program that we will be using to help the children with their studies during our tutoring session.

This is not the only fun available—we have Cyber Parents classes that are available in English and Spanish. It was my first experience giving a class with a translator. We all had great fun and everybody got to laugh at my Spanish or better yet, at me misunderstanding their Spanish.

A Cyber Senior class is offered for the young at heart. It was a delight to let the participants know when they called to sign up for the course that there was, "no way they would or could break our computers." After eight weeks, both seniors and computers were very much intact. Now they have learned the joys of shopping online, even for groceries if they like.

In addition we provide the OZ Teen Shelter, another program of the Youth & Family Services, with a computer-based project once a week. These kids have a lot of talent and imagination. They are here from 9:30 a.m. until noon, once a week, so there is plenty of time for them to come up with a great presentation at the end of the session, like having them come up with a virtual month-long trip to Europe with only $2,000 in their pockets.

What amazes me is that this is all being accomplished with a director, a part-time person, and me. Could you imagine what we could do with more money, personnel, and time?

Of course it is not all fun and games, but I find learning is done best if you are having a good time. Writing curriculum is one of my favorite things to do. I'm attending grant writing workshops given by a local company, Grant Writing Specialists. Their motto is: "Helping those that help others." They truly love non-profits and have been very helpful in adding to my skills.

I would say that my biggest challenge is finding enough time in the day. When they say this will be the hardest job you'll ever love—they aren't kidding.

Sharon AlHourani is AmeriCorps*VISTA for the CTC VISTA Project. She works at the Cyber YMCA Technology Center in San Diego, California.

Post a comment

Remember personal info?

* Denotes required field.