It’s no secret that the COVID pandemic has put many students behind the eight-ball. With the seemingly never-ending school closures going along with the horribly planned remote learning, students across the country have been at a major learning disadvantage as schools have finally returned to in-person learning. But there is one group out there trying to make a difference and they are called the Homework Hotline.
The Homework Hotline is a free offering for K-12 students. It is phone-based and is provided by college students from Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, California. And, as some college students will attest, it isn’t the easiest of jobs to have.
Diana Lin is a senior at the college and has no problem admitting to the number of times she gets stumped by some of the homework questions posed to her on the Homework Hotline. “Oh yeah, all the time. All the time,” Lin laments. But it doesn’t stop her from giving assistance to those high school students who call her with their challenging math or science homework problems.
Lin and the rest of the Homework Hotline tutors are not there to give out exact answers. Instead, their goal is to help guide students through the process of finding the answer for themselves. The tutors are there to help with math formulas and scientific methods to better help students work out their problems.
“I would just patiently walk through it, give examples, make sure that they understand the concept and can work through their homework problems on their own,” Lin said of how she helps those in need. During the pandemic, business was booming. Gabriela Gamiz, a founding Homework Hotline staff member and Harvey Mudd’s director of community engagement, says the demand at that time was expected. What wasn’t expected was even though most schools are back in session full-time, and teachers are readily available to their students, the calls continue to pour in. The pandemic damage lingers.
The Homework Hotline through Harvey Mudd is only one of a number of college-run free homework services provided to struggling students across the country. In Terre Haute, Indiana, AskRose is another homework hotline run by the Rose Hulman Institute of Technology. College Station’s Texas A&M University has its own called the Aggie Homework Helpline. Here, Texas families that have pre-K-12 students in need of homework help can dial them up. The Aggie Homework Helpline will also help students with upcoming tests or even let them practice their reading skills.
It should be noted, though, that a number of these college-run programs like the Homework Hotline got their start well before the pandemic knee-capped our education system. But what the pandemic created with its unrelenting damage to students has renewed the focus on bringing much-needed help to elementary, middle, and high school students, many of who are desperate to get back on track.
Harvey Mudd’s Homework Hotline is one such tutoring program that got its helpful start way before the pandemic reared its ugly head. They took their very first phone call in 2010 and have been helping students in trouble ever since. At that time, tutors thought they’d be taking calls centering around algebra or possibly even calculus. But, according to Gamiz, their first phone call was asking for help with AP Statistics. “I’ve never seen someone move so quickly to find an AP statistics book,” Gamiz recalled of the unprepared tutor.
Homework Hotline is only available for students Monday-Thursday from 6-9 p.m. PST. During these hours they usually have eight to nine tutors working the lines. Depending on the staff on a particular night, Homework Hotline has the ability to conduct their tutoring in English as well as Spanish, Mandarin, and Tagalog.
Over an academic school year, Homework Hotline estimates its tutors average around 3,000 calls. They say most of their questions come from either middle or high school students who are in desperate need of help with their algebra, geometry, or trigonometry. They do say they get the occasional call or two from students in younger grades who are trying to figure out graphs, division, and even pre-algebra.
While it can be a challenge sometimes, it can also be a very gratifying experience, especially when the student in need finally “gets it.” Alex Bishka is another Homework Hotline tutor and the Harvey Mudd senior spoke about one of the best calls he ever took. The young student couldn’t understand variables nor how Biskha was explaining them. So, after Bishka rearranged the difficult equation, then explained the variables’ information for the third time, it clicked. “They kind of seemed to be really happy, and I think by the end of the call, they were just over the moon and being able to finally solve their homework assignment and actually understand what they’re doing in class,” said Bishka to K-12 Dive.
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But as Lin explains, it isn’t easy trying to work through a math problem over the phone. Just one more challenge for the Homework Hotline tutors. On the plus side, says Lin, is that it helps with communication skills. “Being able to practice that [communication] skill and be able to understand how the other person on the line is grasping a problem, that’s really helpful for me,” Lin said. “I’m sure I’ll be using those skills in the future as I’m working with people.”
For now, Lin and the other tutors at Homework Hotline can be proud of the fact that they are the answer to students’ problems. If your child is struggling to get their mojo back in the classroom, Homework Hotline and many similar free assistance programs are available. A simple phone call will get the process started.