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Homework Club "Memberships" Grow

Attendance at homework clubs soon could rival the turnout for more traditional afterschool offerings. The clubs give students the help and structure they need to complete assignments. Included: Descriptions of how homework clubs are organized.

Often when youngsters get around to starting their homework, distractions from television, computers, friends, and family make studying a challenge and help is not available. So more students are doing their homework in places other than home, such as school-, library-, and community-sponsored homework clubs.

After-school homework clubs are growing in many communities, with most of them focused on elementary and middle school students. Clubs meet at least one day a week after school and are supervised by teachers or faculty members and volunteers. Students receive general academic help and/or homework assistance.

EVERYONE WELCOME

While some homework clubs are more formal than others, most allow students to "attend" whenever they feel the need. The programs are geared not only to children having trouble with schoolwork, but those who find it hard to concentrate at home or have no one to provide homework assistance.

"We try to re-enforce concepts and the instruction from class," said Damiano Russo, assistant principal of Dearborn Street Elementary School in Northridge, California. "We have a diverse population, and many parents working two jobs. We want to be available for the students. Sometimes teachers will recommend the club to parents if their children are having trouble concentrating at home."

The Dearborn club meets for 90 minutes four days a week, and is staffed by a teaching assistant and a volunteer, who familiarize themselves with classroom assignments. About 25 children attend each day. "It's goal-directed, we try to minimize distractions," Russo added.

Suzanne Piotrowski, a learning disabled specialist at Beech Street Elementary School, in Manchester, New Hampshire, said her school's homework club for third through fifth graders is equally popular. The club meets for an hour after school, three days a week, and draws about 60 students each week.

"Students get tutoring and help completing homework," Piotrowski told Education World. "Some just do homework and some need re-explanation." School officials had hoped more special education students would attend, but the club has been more popular with mainstream students.

The school started the club because a fifth-grade teacher started helping some students after school who she knew had trouble doing homework at home because of noise or other difficulties, according to Piotrowski.

MIDDLE LEVEL HELP

The move to middle school also can mean a big change on the homework scene, and the homework club at Granite Mountain Middle School in Prescott, Arizona, has been so heavily attended that the school had to find another teacher for seventh graders, said Marilyn McCready, the school's library media specialist, who oversees the homework club. "It's very popular and more popular after report cards come out," McCready told Education World.

About 60 students attend every week. Students meet in classrooms with one of four teachers, three of whom are math teachers and one a science teacher. McCready said she recruited math teachers because that is the subject with which students have the most difficulty.

"One reason our homework club is successful is that the teachers maintain it like a regular classroom," she added. "They expect the students to be working and quiet."

Granite's club also meets for an hour after school two days a week, and has a drop-in policy. The only requirement is that once students show up, they must stay for the whole hour unless a parent comes to pick them up. "We've made it as easy as we can."

Teams at Bennet Middle School in Manchester, Connecticut, also organize homework clubs, and set up a schedule for staffing them, said language arts teacher Jenna Brohinsky, team leader for the Royal 7's, a seventh grade team. Students can come for an hour of help after school on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and some get a chance to work in the computer lab, Brohinsky added.

INTO THE COMMUNITY

In some cities, community agencies have taken the lead on homework clubs. Libraries in Sandwell, in the United Kingdom, and Toronto, Ontario, Canada, for example, sponsor clubs.

The Toronto Public Library operates the Leading to Reading program to help youngsters improve reading skills and homework clubs in 33 of its 99 branches. The Toronto clubs are more formal than some of the after-school programs in the U.S. Students in second through sixth grade sign up for the program, and the library arranges for a volunteer to meet with the student at the library once a week at a specific time for between 60 and 90 minutes.

Library staff members recruit, screen, and train the volunteers, who range in age from high school students to senior citizens. Some library branches have been fortunate to get volunteers from nearby York University, which has a teacher education program. The volunteers provide assistance on a one-to-one or one-to-two basis, and paid monitors oversee the volunteers.

Last year about 347 children participated in the homework clubs and Leading to Reading programs, said Cathy Thompson, east region coordinator for the Leading to Reading and Homework Help programs of the Toronto Public Library.

"Every branch has a waiting list," said David Kondo, Leading to Reading and Homework Help program coordinator, for the west region of the library. "We are limited by space, the number of volunteers, and the salaries of the site monitors."

This year, the library started a homework program for teenagers, because so many who had participated as elementary students came back seeking help, said Joanne Hawthorne a specialist in children and teen services for the Toronto Public Library.

Teen clubs started this year in six branches, and also involve volunteers doing one-on-one tutoring, Hawthorne told Education World. While originally aimed at high school students, some clubs have been opened up to seventh and eighth graders, she said.

HOW MUCH IS IT HELPING?

While the supervisors have not done studies on the effectiveness of the homework clubs, the feedback from teachers has been positive.

"Anecdotally, we've heard positive things, but we haven't done any follow-up studies," said Russo. "Classroom teachers report that more homework assignments are being done when kids go to homework club. So far it has been a very positive experience, and well-worth the investment."

"Teachers do say at least some kids who were not getting their homework in are doing it," added McCready.

Toronto library staff members have seen homework club students make big gains, Kondo said. "In some cases, the results have been spectacular," he told Education World. "Certainly, a student could go from a C to a B. The fact that the volunteer sees the same child week-to-week means they get used to each other. And any time a child can get individual help, it is great."

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