Handy homework help

Published 4:46 pm Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Whether it is multiplication tables or writing an English essay that is stumping you or your child in school, Alabama public libraries have an answer.

Homework Alabama.

The program, which offers homework help and is funded through The Alabama Public Library Service, is completely free to Alabama residents and recently expanded last month to cater to all age levels of education, including kindergarteners and adults.

“It is a great program because it is a supplemental resource for students, whether it is a kindergartener through an adult learner,” said Victoria Ashford, director of the Jane B. Holmes Library in Helena.

Though Homework Alabama now helps students statewide who need brushing up on subjects ranging from fractions to biology, the program can be traced back to Shelby County.

While at a public library convention in Phoenix, Ariz., Barbara Roberts, the Harrison Regional Library director, heard a presentation about a new company called Tutor.com. The new company used an Internet site to give students an opportunity to have additional help with work after the school day was over. Roberts thought it was a good idea and worked alongside other Shelby County librarians and citizens to convince Tutor.com to launch a pilot program in Shelby County.

“We were never hesitant about it (the program),” Roberts said. “The minute we met these people (at tutor.com), we started lobbying them to bring it to Shelby County.”

At the time Roberts had no idea how the program would be funded. The Shelby County Commission gave Roberts and the Harrison Regional Library System a $10,000 donation to fund the initiative.

“If it hadn’t been for Shelby County telling them that we would get the money … the pilot program would have been somewhere else,” Roberts said.

After the success in Shelby County, the program expanded into Homework Alabama in 2005.

Since then Roberts said many children and parents were thankful for the help the program provides, but one particular student stood out.

Roberts said there was a 16-year-old in the county who had gotten in trouble with juvenile court. The teenager, who was also doing poorly in school, was told to participate in the program as a portion of his community service hours.

“The first time he came in and started with the tutor, he was told by the tutor that if he was not going to take it seriously the session would be over,” Roberts said. “He decided he would behave himself. That kid straightened himself up. He went from making Ds and Fs to passing.”

Roberts said the student had been embarrassed in the past about how far behind he had fallen in school and enjoyed the anonymity the program provided.

“What he said he liked about the homework help was — because the tutor didn’t know anything about him, didn’t know how old he was, didn’t know he was behind a grade — he knew that he would be treated fairly,” Roberts said. “The tutor made no judgments about him at all and that was important to him.”

Roberts said the anonymity the program provides allows the program to cross cultural, racial and economic barriers.

“The service does not know if you are black or white, if you are a boy or a girl … if you are rich or poor,” Roberts said. “It cuts across all sorts of racial and socioeconomic lines to make it fair for all kids across the state, whether they are from a wealthy suburb or one of the most impoverished sections of the state.”

Though the program does help students who are struggling, it also can be a good confidence boost for kids who aren’t having a hard time in class.

“If they want to have reassurance that they are on the right path, they have this opportunity to have this person who can help them,” Ashford said.

The program is proving to be successful, according to Rebecca Mitchell, the state librarian, who said that libraries were getting positive remarks back from students.

Homework Alabama is available from 3 p.m. – 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and offers help in subjects including English, math, social studies and science from tutors located all over the country for ages Kindergarten through adults. Tutors are highly educated and are put through training and background checks before being allowed to work with students. To get more information or help with homework, visit www.homeworkalabama.org.