Sixty-two-year-old Fran McDonald sits anxiously at her computer with her white binder full of handouts scattered with her own notes as she waits for class to start.
“Me and Excel are having a ball,” McDonald says with a laugh.
McDonald is using the “Technology is Power Seminar,” one of the free programs offered at the Philadelphia Center for Arts and Technology. PCAT is a community-based initiative designed to give students the opportunity to experience areas of study and career opportunities that were not available to them before.
The facility houses several computer labs, a dance studio, outdoor space for gardening and several rooms designated for meetings. Also, a professional recording studio is under construction.
The center opened in early September of 2009 and currently operates at full capacity.
“We are at capacity, so at any given week we can have excess of 500 students engaged, excited, having fun being innovative and creative,” says Claudia Averette, executive director.
A majority of the tuition-free programs are catered to teenagers and people in their early 20s. Students can participate in “Orchestrating Leadership,” a class where participants will gain knowledge of how an orchestra works and actually perform with professional musicians, learn the behind the scenes responsibilities of the music industry with the program, “Music Means Business,” or earn a certificate of completion from Moore College of Art and Design by enrolling in the graphic design program.
“It’s our mission to assist, lead and mentor the youth to be productive citizens,” says Steven Robertson, the assistant director. “Our programs provide insight into various career options.”
While many of the programs target a younger audience, McDonald and approximately 50 other adults are not excluded from the outreach of PCAT. The “Technology is Power Seminar” is for anyone 18 and older. In this program students navigate Microsoft Office in order to earn a certificate.
“We’re all young people,” says McDonald. “We just don’t learn as fast.”
Adults in the seminar have the freedom to work at their own pace while learning how to use all of the programs within Microsoft Office.
McDonald explains that seniors now are more active then they were when she was young. The technology seminar provides her with knowledge that is helping her with other activities.
Serving as the secretary for Sturgis Recreational Center advisory committee, the Retired Correctional Officer’s Organization of Philadelphia and for an AARP chapter, McDonald wanted to learn Excel.
“I can easily alphabetize my document and keep all of my sign-in sheets organized,” McDonald explains. “To organize the sale of T-shirts for an organization all I had to do was click, click, click and I had who paid what and how much people owed just like that.”
Robertson explains that last year when the technology seminar premiered between 20 and 25 people were enrolled. Each computer station lined along the lime green walls of the PC lab is now taken because the enrollment has doubled.
“We’re constantly enrolling and there is a waiting list for the youth programs as well as the adult seminars,” says Averette.
Having basic knowledge of how to use a computer is becoming a necessity, no matter what age group you’re in.
“My aunt tried to tell me that she doesn’t have a need to learn the computer programs. Now she is calling me and asking me to show her how to do what I’ve been learning,” says McDonald.
Already stretching her time among three organizations, McDonald wants to further give her assistance by sharing the knowledge that she has gained at PCAT. The seminar prepares one to take the Microsoft certified application specialist exam. With this title McDonald will be able to teach students at Sturgis Recreational Center how to use the applications of Microsoft Office.
“Last year the focus was on northwest Philadelphia, but with our fall programming this year we are trying to broaden the reach to all of Philadelphia,” explains Robertson.
“I am 62 and on a fixed income. If this course wasn’t offered for free, I wouldn’t have been able to take advantage of this learning opportunity,” says McDonald.
The facilities at PCAT are unlike those that have ever been available to most inner-city youth and adults.
“When someone who has never been to the center before comes inside they say ‘wow’ because they had no idea how beautiful it is here,” says Robertson.
With PCAT it is easy to take McDonald’s advice: it is never too late to start learning.