Stuck in quarantine over the summer, 16-year-old Diya Hundiwala felt driven to do something to give back to her Warrington, PA, community in Bucks County.
Given pandemic restrictions, she knew she couldn’t be of service in-person, so she started thinking of other ways she could be helpful—and an experience she’d just had teaching her grandmother new ways of communicating during the pandemic spurred her on.
“When Covid-19 started, my grandmother wanted to learn more and connect with us more,” Hundiwala says. “After seeing how she quickly adapted to texting and WhatsApp all the way in India, I realized that a lot of other seniors might benefit from overcoming trouble with technology.”
A Google search led Hundiwala to discover a group called Teens Teach Technology (TTT), a youth organization that aims to help seniors learn the ins and outs of the internet; teens conduct lessons virtually, from home, while seniors join in from their own home.
Lessons range from setting up social media accounts to using Spotify or Netflix, to spotting scam emails and avoiding computer viruses. And the sessions are taught entirely by tech-savvy high schoolers over Zoom, in collaboration with libraries and nursing homes who spread the word to interested seniors.
Recognizing that there was no Teens Teach Tech chapter in Pennsylvania, Hundiwala decided to launch one in August, with the help of peers at her school, Central Bucks High School South.
Now, the Pennsylvania chapter—of which Hundiwala is president—has 19 members.
A national network
The first chapter of Teens Teach Technology started in New York last March, with the goal of keeping seniors connected to their family and friends despite the limitations posed by the pandemic. It now exists in eight other states, including California, Hawaii, Illinois, Florida, North Carolina, Washington and Texas.
With teaching sessions held over Zoom, students teach seniors across the country; Hundiwala has taught participants in New York, while others in the Pennsylvania chapter have reached seniors in places as far away as Hawaii.
Sophomores Katherine He and Chakrika Aluri do public relations for the group and schedule sessions for libraries and nursing homes across the state. [Katherine] He says she joined TTT because of her desire, like Hundiwala’s, to help her community.
“During this time when we’re all so spread apart, it’s especially difficult for those who don’t necessarily have as much of a grasp on technology as younger generations,” says Katherine He. “We really wanted to help those who are struggling contact their families and friends.”
“During this time when we’re all so spread apart, it’s especially difficult for those who don’t necessarily have as much of a grasp on technology as younger generations,” she says. “We really wanted to help those who are struggling contact their families and friends.”
Aluri says that the pandemic made the need for Teens Teach Technology’s work feel particularly pressing. “I definitely would not have joined something like this or found something like this if it wasn’t for Covid,” she says. “With everything in-person being shut down right now, it’s especially helpful to do things online.”
Central Bucks High School South junior Ellie Perrin says the at-home nature of TTT has been key.
“During the pandemic, it’s been really hard to find volunteer work that you can do from home, and this program offers the opportunity to do a lot,” she says. She’s on Teens Teach Technology’s social media committee, which involves regularly posting stories, news and updates.
The Zoom sessions themselves can consist of one of three different series, each with their own lessons. The first series covers day-to-day technology, which includes lessons on social media, creating a Twitter account, daily applications, how to order food through Doordash, entertainment, setting up a Netflix account.
There is also a series on internet safety, spotting scam emails and scam calls, and a series on Google applications, teaching seniors how to use apps like Google calendar and Google maps.
To date, Teens Teach Technology has drawn instructors exclusively from high school students, but Hundiwala says she’d be interested in possibly expanding outreach to include middle school or college students.
There’s a meta-level to the work of Teens Teach Technology, of course: The sessions take place over Zoom, but many seniors who want to participate are not particularly Zoom-savvy. Pivoting in response to that, TTT has added Zoom lessons into their sessions.
And while platforms like Zoom may turn away some would-be participants—several of the libraries to which Teens Teach Technology did outreach were unable to attract participants—there is still widespread demand for the program. Hundiwala says her chapter has booked appointments in Pennsylvania through June. To date, the entire program has reached 213 seniors and counting.
Due to the pandemic, it’s even more important for these seniors to feel connected, as many are feeling more isolated due to Covid-19 restrictions, which makes a program like TTT helpful by providing a place for both social interaction and education.
And it seems the seniors think so too, as one senior in PA, Maya Jagtiani, sent written feedback after a Teens Teach Technology session saying, “Thank you all the Teen Teachers for taking time to arrange this seminar for the older population, that was a great idea and I appreciate their effort very much.”
At the Gladwyne Library in Lower Merion, library assistant Brian Howe recruited five seniors to show up for sessions throughout October, saying that the cohort was “very active and engaged, and interested in possibly attending more events” in the future.
Throughout the sessions in which Hundiwala has participated, she felt that being able to educate seniors about technology taught her just as many valuable lessons.
“It was a great way to learn to be patient, and learn to cooperate with people who may not be as adaptive to all this new technology that we have,” she says. “And the most rewarding part was to see how grateful and thankful they were for all of that we taught them.”Photo by Beth Macdonald / Unsplash