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Kids Cruising The Superhighway Spokane Companies Find Niche Teaching Youngsters To Use Computers

Awkward adults always envy fearless 3-year-olds who whiz by and beat ‘em down the slopes.

Now the kids are beating them down the information superhighway.

According to a recent Gallup poll, half of America’s white-collar workers are cyberphobic - fearful or resistant of new technology. About 35 percent refuse to use computers at all.

“Older people have the irrational fear that the system will blow up if they push the wrong button,” said Howard Jones, who owns Kid Kool Designs, a service to teach children to use computers for creative art.

“But children’s innocent minds are completely open to technology. They pick this stuff up by osmosis,” Jones said.

Parental cyberphobes - as well as parents who use computers themselves - want their children to have access to technological advances they didn’t have. Their concerns have spurred a lucrative business niche that Spokane entrepreneurs are quick to fill.

“I definitely think the industry is expanding,” said Kathy Casey, owner of Compukids, one of several computer training services for children launched by Spokane residents in the past year.

Compukids’ teachers - armed with Harvey the Hard Drive and kid-friendly programs such as Millie’s Math House - have more than 200 students in Spokane, Yakima and the Tri-Cities. Next month Compukids will launch Computer Adventure Club, in which teachers will make house calls for groups of children.

Compukids is the result of Casey’s volunteer efforts with her son’s kindergarten class, which was using an “antique” Apple computer three years ago. When she visited other classrooms, she realized computers were often outdated and teachers didn’t have time to show kids how to use them.

“Our service is more convenient. Kids are already in day care, so (parents) don’t have to take them anywhere,” said Casey, who charges $24 per student for a month of weekly half-hour lessons.

“And some students … have actually helped classmates learn how to use the computer in school, and this takes pressure off the teacher,” said Casey, formerly personnel manager for The Crescent department store.

Compukids, which targets children age 3 to 11, employs three part-time teachers who show children how to “respect the computer” and maneuver basic software.

Other schools, especially those that target teens and preteens, teach advanced concepts and emphasize that the computer is merely a tool to facilitate research.

High school students in Jones’ classes, for example, can learn to use financial software such as Quicken to learn about running a business. He also teaches PageMaker, Illustrator and Freehand to help them create logos, newsletters and ads.

“Very little art these days is produced with paper and pencil; it’s all computer-generated,” Jones said. “If they want to pursue creative art or graphic design, they can learn a career doing this all on computers.”

PCS Centers for Enriched Learning, 50 W. Mission, uses the Internet to let students interested in architecture browse photos of bridges, floor plans and academic notes. Those interested in robotics can write programs to move a mechanical arm via computer.

Sean Nickerson, 13, uses PCS computers to learn what his parents and teachers don’t know.

“At school I only learned to use (computers) for math and typing. But here I use them for chess, engineering, flight studies …” said Sean, a home-school student in eighth grade.

Owners say lack of competition in children’s computer training has meant continuous financial growth. But it’s difficult work in which teachers must combine the patience of kindergarten teachers with the technological know-how of programmers.

“There’s not a whole lot of people out there who can train kids,” Jones said. “You’ve got to get them to like you fast because kids get bored in about three seconds.”

Jones, formerly a stand-up comedian, gets kids enthused by using humor, animation and interactive games. He learned his tricks from his 14-year-old daughter, Crystal.

“She taught dad to relate to kids,” Jones said. “Now my enthusiasm transfers over to the kids and before they know it, they’re learning.”

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