Eighteen Students Graduated from Cyber Seniors at Radnor Towers this Year
Nashville Seniors Learn Tech, Email, the Internet, and More with NPL
Teresa S. was scared of the internet. That was how it started.
Growing up, Teresa’s mother worked in data for several companies. She had refused to have the internet in their home. “That’s how they spy on you,” she’d say.
Later in life, Teresa heard stories of people having their identities and fortunes stolen because of some pop-up ads on the web.
For her, being on the internet, in general, was nerve-wracking.
So, when the Resident Services Coordinator at Radnor Towers — where Teresa had lived since early 2023 — announced that Nashville Public Library (NPL) was offering a free, on-site class called Cyber Seniors to teach tech to senior residents, she saw a chance to confront her fear.
“I really wanted to learn how you knew it was safe — and how to stay safe — on the internet, instead of falling into something,” Teresa said.
By the time she graduated a month later, she knew how to stay safe.
And much more.
Meeting a Pressing Need
The need to reach seniors like Teresa is great.
In 2021, the Metro Nashville Government published the “Nashville Digital Inclusion Needs Assessment.” The 98-page report reveals that one-third of seniors never use the internet, while half don’t even have in-home internet access.
Among those who do, nearly half report needing extensive help to set up or use a new digital device. Meanwhile, 34% of seniors report little or no confidence in their ability to use technology.
Statistics like these are why NPL’s Digital Inclusion initiative — and Cyber Seniors — exists.
“Knowing how to use technology isn’t optional anymore. Applying for jobs; shopping; staying connected with family and friends — so much of what we do is based online now. Seniors — who deserve as much as anyone to be part of that economy — are often left out of the conversation. Our job is to make sure they aren’t left behind,” Digital Inclusion Manager Marian Christmon said.
Meeting Seniors Where They Are … Literally and Figuratively
Cyber Seniors is one piece of Digital Literacy for Seniors, a series of programs that NPL’s Digital Inclusion team offers at no charge to students.
They set up an onsite classroom where seniors live.
Guided by the team, seniors connect with teenage mentors to learn how to operate a tablet; set up and check an email account; verify if a website is secure; download apps; connect to Zoom calls; and more.
“I’ll tell you the number one challenge I encounter with seniors is confidence. They don’t want to admit it, but they’re scared that they just don’t have the ability to grasp this technology,” said Danny Oliver, one of two Digital Inclusion instructors who led class at Radnor Towers. “Our role is to not only teach them, but to give them the confidence that, yes, they can learn. That’s the most important thing we do.”
Friendship and Quality Time: Teresa and Destiny
While classroom instruction is the foundation for these classes, one-on-one time is where the learning really happens.
That’s where Cyber Seniors teen mentors come in.
Teen mentors guide their assigned students as they practice and offer encouragement.
“Meanwhile, the teens and seniors are chatting. The seniors talk about their lives, the lessons they’ve learned, the failures they’ve endured,“ Oliver said. ”For a young person, there’s a wealth of knowledge and experience they can draw on. You actively see different generations learning together.”
Teresa and her teen mentor, Destiny A., had a great time together.
Mentoring wasn’t new to Destiny. As a student at Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet High School, she serves as a teaching assistant and mentor to her fellow students. After she spoke with Marian Christmon about Cyber Seniors, Destiny knew it was the perfect fit for her.
“I’ve always been interested in technology, and I really want to share the knowledge and skills I have,” Destiny said. “Teaching seniors is a very rewarding experience, because it taught me how to accommodate different abilities.
“With high school students, you can just tell them something and they’ll go do it. With seniors, you may be dealing with arthritis, so you give them a stylus. You may be dealing with hearing loss, so you have to repeat things several times. It’s something, as a teacher, you have to accommodate.”
Over the course of one month, Teresa and Destiny — and the other seniors and mentors — practiced everything that had been taught in class. Sometimes the going was smooth; sometimes it wasn’t. But they stuck through it, together.
“I loved working with Destiny! She made everything so much fun, and she’s very observant and attentive. When the light was too bright from the sun’s glare, she pulled the blinds so we could see, without anyone telling her. She always made me feel comfortable while I learned,” Teresa said.
Graduation Day: A Braver, More Confident Teresa
On Monday, July 31, the Digital Inclusion team, seniors, and their teen mentors gathered together at Radnor Towers one final time to celebrate with a graduation ceremony.
Adorned in ceremonial hats — provided courtesy of the Nashville Public Library Foundation — the students and instructors spoke about the pride they took in each other, the things they learned, and their deep sense of reward.
“It was such an emotional moment,” Destiny said. “To see these seniors I’d worked with stand up and see the pride they felt in having completed this course was so rewarding for me. It’s something I carry with me as I continue my journey.”
For Teresa, graduation was a moment to reflect on all that she’d learned … and how much her fears had abated.
“For me, overcoming that fear of the internet was huge. I’d never heard of HTTP vs. HTTPS before. Knowing the difference now, I feel like I don’t have to be so afraid on the internet,” Teresa said. “I’m grateful to everyone who coordinated and funded this class. We need more like it.”
And for others on the fence about joining a class like Cyber Seniors — and perhaps struggling with their own fears about technology — Teresa has some very simple advice.
“You’re never too old to learn. The folks teaching this course are patient, kind, and very, very good at what they do. They’ll help you get there.”
NPL’s Digital Inclusion work is offered at no cost to Nashville seniors thanks to generous support from the Nashville Public Library Foundation, West End Home Foundation, Google Fiber, Cyber-Seniors/Best Buy Gives Back, Senior Trust Digital Literacy Grant (Administered by WEHF), and the Tennessee State Library and Archives.