A sobering math lesson

Jesus Lara came to study at the Homework Club after it literally answered his cry.

The Huntington Beach resident found himself floundering in the third grade, and not just because of his difficulty grasping math and science. At home after school, he tried to make his room a quiet sanctuary, but he found his studies constantly interrupted — by his younger brother pounding on the door, by the bustle in the kitchen and other clatter around the house.

Finally, Jesus’ frustration boiled over, and not inside the bedroom.

“One day in class, he just started crying for no reason,” his mother, Nancy Bueno, said.


Jesus’ teacher shared the news with his mother and recommended a solution: an after-school program at the Oak View Branch Library that provided a quiet study space, or something close to it, and a chance to work with tutors one on one.

Seven years later, Jesus is a sophomore at Ocean View High School, fitting in football and three clubs alongside his classes. His brother Uriel, who has since atoned for pounding on the door, and sister Naomi attend the library’s Homework Club regularly.

Jesus wants to be a veterinarian, Uriel a zoologist; Naomi isn’t sure about career plans, but devours mystery novels in her spare time. All three say the Homework Club, which the library offers four days a week, has been invaluable in keeping up their grades.

And all three are hoping that the club will last through the end of the next school year.


Last year, Huntington Beach lost its state funding for libraries, as Sacramento made drastic budget cuts. Officials scraped together enough through grants, donations and fundraisers to keep the program afloat. For the coming fiscal year, the budget forecast looks the same, which means the community may have to band together again to maintain the club until June.

“We’re optimistic,” said Stephanie Beverage, the city’s director of library services. “We’re hopeful that a champion or a group of champions may step up and support the programs there.”


‘You’re going to go to college’

Oak View, a low-income, mostly Latino neighborhood tucked southwest of Warner Avenue and Beach Boulevard, looks far removed from the spacious suburbs that dominate most of Huntington.

Here, economy is the rule. Fourplexes and car ports squeeze in so closely they seem to hug each other. A walk through residential streets shows signs of hectic life with limited space: laundry hung over balcony rails, bikes and scooters scattered by doorsteps, flower pots hung on chain-link fences.

Even the library, where the Homework Club takes up nearly half the space, shares a parking lot with Oak View School and the Oak View Family Resource Center. For many kids, that community hub provides a nine-hour work day — breakfast served at school in the morning, then classes, then the Homework Club until 4:30 or 5.

Except for coordinator Jackeline Reyes, a part-time employee, all those who oversee the club are volunteers. Some are retired and have tutored kids for years; others are high school or college students looking to rack up service hours.


The backgrounds of the tutors vary, but Reyes, a Santa Ana native, keenly sympathizes with the hundreds of kids who lug their backpacks to the library Monday through Thursday.

Like many of them, she grew up as the daughter of immigrants who had a limited understanding of the American school system. Like them, she and her older sister became the first in their family to study past high school.

“I don’t think my parents knew that I took the SATs, or what the SATs meant,” Reyes said. “But it was always, ‘You’re going to go to college.’”

Reyes, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Cal State Fullerton, points out quickly that her club is not day care. She is about the work and expects the students — and their families — to have the same attitude. To enroll their kids, parents must go through an orientation, and Reyes often coordinates with school staff about behavior and grades.

She refers to herself as “the bad guy” who intervenes in troublesome situations.

Most of the $22,000 required to fund the club every year goes toward Reyes’ salary. According to Beverage and Oak View librarian Claudia Locke, her position isn’t a luxury — the club can’t function without its administrator, no matter the quality of tutoring.


A family of hundreds


The club dates nearly back to the origin of the library. The Oak View branch opened in summer 1995, and after officials perceived a need, they launched the club in October.

Over the years, the after-school program, as well as the summer Math Club and Reading Partners, have survived on state funds and donations. The National Charity League has been the main benefactor; the last two years, as state support dwindled, the Friends of the Library chipped in proceeds from its used book sales and gift shop.

For now, Locke said, a National Charity League grant has provided funds to keep the club going for three or four months after the school year begins. The program is still short about $14,000; Math Club and Reading Partners, which cost $1,400 and $1,000, respectively, have no funds for this summer.

According to Gerry Maginnity, the state’s bureau chief for library development services, California’s budget the last two years has cut public library funds altogether. The state funds allotted to Huntington Beach libraries sank from $116,000 in 2006 to $69,600 in 2010 before plummeting to zero.

Beverage said the Friends of the Library have raised enough funds to keep most programs going at the city’s branches. Oak View, which has more programming than the others, has taken the biggest cut.

Joann Craft, a Homework Club tutor since 1999, frets about the program being able to survive the coming year. But as soon as she takes her post at one of the library’s long tables, money gives way to immediate concerns — which can be more immediate the younger the age.

Seated with up to a dozen kids around her, Craft fulfills multiple jobs: math tutor, English proofreader, ear lender, counselor. One minute, she might hear a boy’s story about his father selling tomatoes door to door in Mexico to feed the family; the next, she might give a pep talk to a girl who complains about butting heads with her teacher.

“These kids are like my grandkids,” Craft said. “This one boy came in today and ran up to me to tell me there was a new baby in the house.”

Reyes pointed out another service the library provides: technology. Often, students have to print out their class syllabi at the library because they lack computers or printers at home.

“It’s hard for people with money in their pocket to realize there is a desperate need,” Craft said.


Putting a dream on hold

Bueno, who lives outside Oak View but sends her kids to school there, struggles sometimes with the knowledge that their academic skills exceed her own.

A Mexican immigrant who moved north of the border at 15, she ended her studies after the sixth grade. Back then, her goals were to marry and have kids — the first of which didn’t prove lasting. When her family was growing, she sought to earn a GED, but found that the pressures of being a single mother and breadwinner overwhelmed her ability to study.

“I don’t understand their homework,” she said. “It’s so frustrating for me. It’s frustrating because I’m their parent and I don’t know.”

When her kids are older, Bueno, who works as a house cleaner in Irvine and Newport Beach, plans to start studying for the equivalency degree again. In the meantime, she’s watching them fulfill the dream she’s put on hold for herself.

The Homework Club, Bueno said, has taught them time management and a can-do attitude. Sometimes, she listens to neighbors talk about their kids’ struggles at school and feels proud of what her own have accomplished.

“I just ask, ‘Where would I be if I didn’t have this program?’” she said.

Twitter: @MichaelMillerHB

How to help

To donate to the Huntington Beach Public Library, contact Kathy Blassingame at (714) 960-8836 or