When the pandemic hit New York, it presented a challenge to Jordan Mittler. The high school junior had been teaching a technology class to seniors in person, and he had to completely change the way he taught and transition his classes online. But how was he supposed to teach seniors if he they didn’t know how to join a Zoom meeting? He sent them a step-by-step list of instructions, which worked for some of them, but others needed him to walk them through each click over the phone. It took one of his students four weeks to successfully join the class.
“She wasn’t able to get into my first Zoom class,” Mittler said. “She was able to get it to the second, but she couldn’t see or hear me. She was able to kind of get into the third, but she could only see me — she couldn’t hear me. And then finally, in lesson four, she was able to see me, hear me, and eventually participated in the class.”
Technology and the teaching of technology come naturally to Mittler. He was 12 years old when his grandparents finally made the switch from flip phones to iPhones, and to his surprise, they had no idea how to use them. So he taught them. It turned out that they weren’t the only two seniors on the Upper East Side who struggle in the tech department, so the seventh grader offered his services to a nursing home nearby. Mittler Senior Tech was launched in 2017, offering free, in person classes to local seniors who wanted to learn how to use their smartphones and computers better.
“Seniors are really smart, and this is like a second language to them, so they don’t really get it,” he said. “But once they do get it, they know it.”
His first student was 94-year-old Bonnie, who lived in the nursing home.
“I don’t think she even had a phone at the time,” Mittler said. “But she learned how to type, how to send emails, how to browse the internet. She was able to reconnect with family that she hadn’t spoken to in years.”
Mittler spent a year teaching one-on-one lessons to Bonnie, and he says he owes his success to her.
“Even up until now, she is constantly emailing me something like, ‘Jordan, I’m sending an email, are you proud of me?’”
Not understanding technology is already isolating for seniors, particularly those living alone. And factoring in COVID-19, when nursing homes and the elderly have few to no visitors, means technology can be a lifeline to family and friends.
“My goal from the beginning — and it’s been even more significant since COVID started — is to cure the issue of social isolation in senior communities,” Mittler said.
“A lot of the seniors that I work with are isolated. They live alone, they’re retired, their spouse passed away, and they’re in that sort of circumstance where do they kind of feel that they don’t have so much of a purpose in life,” Mittler said. “And even during COVID, which, it’s so much stronger that they can’t even go anywhere, or they have to be worried about wearing a mask, things like that, it’s so much more important.”
Students Around the World
Mittler, a junior at Ramaz High School, started with a single student, and grew to 15-student in person weekly classes (since he’s in school, one class a week is his limit). During the pandemic held his first Zoom class with 20 participants, and now has 50-60 students attending his online classes every Sunday. Because it’s online, he says he has students from all over the world, something he couldn’t do with in-person classes on the Upper East Side.
He runs the classes with the help of three other teens from his high school: Julia Feit (Content Layout Advisor), Joe Kaplan (IT Advisor), and Caroline Schwartz, who runs their social media. Other teens come in occasionally to help out. Mittler says he wants the company to be kept “in the young generation” without help from adults.
To make his classes online friendly, he uploads all his Zoom classes to YouTube, and is working on an online portal where seniors can sign up for the free “basic” class or the “advanced computer” class for $75 for ten classes.
When COVID hit, Mittler had to rework his curriculum to fit the seniors’ current needs.
“Instead of covering, let’s say, email, I was going to do a main focus on online shopping because seniors don’t want to leave the house,” he said.
The amount of information phones and computers give us access to is often taken for granted. Mittler helps seniors indulge their interests and hobbies online.
“Some seniors love finding recipes online, or looking at articles in the New York Times, or information about museums. All these seniors have different interests, or sports. Seniors like looking up the sports scores, the stock market,” Mittler said. “There’s so much that the internet could bring for these seniors. And they’re so used to waiting for the newspaper to come every day.”
Mittler doesn’t know how long he’ll be with Mittler Senior Tech. He’s a junior in high school and plans to go to college. When he does go to college, he wants the virtual portal with recorded classes to stay available to seniors. Right now, he’s looking forward to the day he can teach in-person again.
“They’re kind of sitting at home feeling this isolation, but when they have everything at their fingertips, it just opens up an entire new world,” he said. “Technology, I think, is a key.”
“My goal from the beginning — and it’s been even more significant since COVID started — is to cure the issue of social isolation in senior communities.” High school junior Jordan Mittler