Tapping into tutors across the state

Burbank Library now offers online help for students from its website from 1 to 10 p.m. six days a week.In Burbank, going to the library has taken on a new meaning.

Students participating in the library's homework help program no longer have to leave their houses to get tutored -- a new online program brings the help to them.

"It's like a chat," explained Burbank's Senior Librarian for Young Adult Services Melissa Gwynne.

"They're hooking up with a live teacher or tutor, who's at the other end."

The program is made possible by an annual state grant.

The state hires and screens the tutors and provides the infrastructure for libraries to tap in to. Tutors, who log in to the program from locations across the state, are subject to background checks before they can be considered.

The libraries apply annually to receive funding for the program, Gwynne said.

The service, which has been available at a special computer in the library for three years, is now accessible through the library's website.

Students click on a link, specify their grade and the subject they need help with, and a tutor appears.

Each session with a tutor is one-on-one.

"What can I help you with?" pops up in blue letters across the top of the screen.

The screen includes a small instant message window in which the student and tutor can converse, a drawing board where students can practice geometry and fractions, and a set of math and science tools. Students can work through homework problems, asking questions as they go.

"It's kind of like someone's sitting beside you while you do your homework," said 12-year-old Michelle Degges. "If you make a mistake they're there to help you."

The fact that there is a live tutor on the other side of the screen makes all the difference, she said.

"They get the sense that they're not alone," she said.

"A lot of parents don't have the time to really sit down with their kids and do their homework with them. This way they can ask questions even after school."

The program, which is available to students from 1 to 10 p.m. six days a week, helps students remember what they learned in class during the day, said Michelle's mother Denise Degges.

"They learn all these new concepts all the time," Degges said.

"Then they have to go home and do their homework -- sometimes they forget."

It also helps on subjects that parents don't entirely understand, she said.

"At this point, they're all beyond me," she said.

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