Each week dozens of teens congregate at the La Habra Branch Library, not to hang out with friends or surf the Internet, but to volunteer their time to tutor younger students who struggle in school and are often below grade level. The teen volunteers offer homework help and provide academic resources and encouragement to an underserved and at-risk population of children.
The La Habra Branch Library initiated the after-school homework help program at the urging of high school student Teresa Chan who served on the library’s Teen Advisory Board and volunteered with the Families for Literacy program. Teresa noticed that there were literacy programs offered for preschoolers and adults, but nothing was available for elementary school students who gathered at the library each afternoon.
With Teresa’s help and under the direction of Teen Library Assistant, Carrie Robertson, the Homework Help Teen Tutor program was implemented in January 2003. Initially, 16 teens signed up to serve as volunteer tutors for 35 younger students. Over the past two years, the program has expanded to 130 tutors who have dedicated 2,247 hours as academic mentors and role models for more than 250 children.
To prepare for the tutoring sessions, each teen attends a four-hour training, which includes topics related to learning styles, goal setting and helping students build reading and math skills. Most of the teens volunteer at least once a week for an entire academic year and several tutors have continued with the program for two or more years.
The teens find time in their incredibly busy schedules to work with squirmy students who sometimes don’t welcome their help. They demonstrate tremendous patience and have become outstanding leaders capable of managing stressful situations, always adapting and creating solutions. The volunteers have learned to work through challenging situations with students as well as with parents. Whatever the circumstances, they stay focused on the child’s well being and on helping that child achieve success.
Each day the Homework Help Center is managed by a volunteer team captain who sets up the room, matches students with tutors, watches for the shy child or the overwhelmed tutor, and makes sure everyone has what they need to accomplish their tasks. These teens in particular have stretched their wings through this added layer of responsibility and have successfully soared new heights.
Young children who attend the library’s after-school program have a safe place where they can receive help from trained and dedicated teen tutors. Students who struggle with math or reading one week arrive the next week sharing their successes. It’s not uncommon to hear a child proudly mention that he/she received an “A” on a spelling test. One parent wrote, “My daughter’s tutor helped her to understand her homework and when she brought home her first 100 percent in math, it was the best moment for her and for me.” The parent of fourth grader shared that her child’s math test scores rose from a third- to a sixth grade level because of the Homework Help Teen Tutor program.
The La Habra Branch Library Homework Help Teen Tutors are making an important and long-lasting impact within their community. Their efforts are helping youngsters attain their dreams through academic success.