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Learning by Teaching : A Belmont High Junior Has Developed Social Skills by Helping Others at Computer Lab


Alexander Ishakputro, 16, was born on the island of Java in Indonesia. He immigrated to Los Angeles with his parents four years ago. A junior at Belmont High School, Ishakputro is a volunteer computer coach at the Echo Park branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. The small but busy branch has a room in the back where patrons can use computers and learn word processing. He was interviewed by Monica Gyulai.


At Belmont High, students are sent every week to a computer lab to do word processing. Some of the students don't realize how important computer skills are, but working in the lab got me interested in computers. I wanted to learn more, so I borrowed books about software and programming from the library.

Later, I heard that the Echo Park library needed volunteers for its computer center, where people learn English by using computers. The lab has software that helps people learn vocabulary and sentence structure. I started volunteering two years ago and now I practically run the place, along with one other volunteer. The lab can be open only if one of us is here. We both work two afternoons a week and all day Saturday.

We need a new computer with a huge hard disk and more software. Then we could network our computers. If we had a modem, this lab could become an information center. If we had programming software, this could be a place where programmers could talk about computers. But the library does not have the money.

By volunteering at the computer center, I can meet some of my own needs. I have lots of English classes, and those require lots of word processing. I get to use the lab, and so do lots of interesting people--many who have never used computers before.

When I first started volunteering, I was very shy. Two years ago I would have been shaking during this newspaper interview, but now, after teaching at the lab, and especially after teaching older people, I have confidence. I am more socially involved with people. Troubled kids come to the lab and they tell me about their problems. Many of my peers live in broken homes, and they are confused. I talk to them, I listen to them.

I never used to talk to my teachers or ask them questions. All I did was sit in class, do homework and make straight A's. When my English teacher assigned something, I would do it two or three ways if I wasn't sure what he wanted. That's the way we were in the old country. Students in Java don't talk to their teachers. Teachers issue commands ; students do . Now, I can actually talk to my English teacher and find out what exactly he wants.

School was tougher in Indonesia, but it's better here because rules are less rigid. I became more loose. But I also became more motivated. In Indonesia, the assignments are not very hard. Here, we do research, but there I didn't even know where there was a library.

In Java, I didn't even know what a computer was. Now, I think I will study computers in college.

When my friends need emergency typing equipment, I tell them about the library's computer center. But I've never really talked to any of them about my volunteering. I am very proud of myself for keeping the center running, but not talking about my volunteering is a way of Asian modesty.

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