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Sunday, Sep. 29, 2013

Homework coaches help kids at Johnson County Library

Special to The Star

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Two local foundations have donated $60,000 to help Johnson County students do their homework and learn skills to help them in school.

The Hall Family Foundation gave the Johnson County Library a $50,000 grant, and the Sprint Foundation donated $10,000.

The Sprint Foundation grant helps fund Homework Help, a free program. Two homework coaches help students — mainly fourth- through eighth-graders — in a designated area of the Central Resource Library in Overland Park from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday. It serves about 600 students a year.

“It’s set up for kids to walk in and say ‘Hi, I’m so-and-so, and I need homework help,’” said Dennis Ross, the Central Resource Library’s youth services coordinator, who runs Homework Help. “Kids really establish a relationship with the coaches, and they do get better as the year goes along at getting their homework done.”

James Ngugi, who has had two children in the program since last year, said it has made a remarkable difference in the outcomes of their studies.

“I want to encourage others to check out the program because I can see the change in my kids,” Ngugi said. “My kids are the best in their class, and it’s because of this program.”

Ngugi emigrated from Kenya 11 years ago. He has a degree in accounting and is studying to be a registered nurse.

“All I need to do is to drive them here and do my studying (elsewhere in the same library), free of charge,” he said.

He knows his children are in a safe place and receiving high-quality academic assistance, he said.

His 7-year-old daughter Chelsea, a second-grader, said she mainly gets help in English. She entered the top reading group in her class at the start of this school year, her father said. She was in that group at mid-year last year, he said, but her family couldn’t go to Homework Help for a while, and her reading skills declined.

How does Chelsea like the program? “I feel happy,” she said.

Lubna Nasim, mother of 11-year-old Omar and 13-year-old Tasmia, wishes Homework Help could better assist with math for fifth- through eighth-graders.

“It is helping to some extent,” Nasim said.

The $50,000 grant from the Hall Family Foundation helps with the homework program, the 6 by 6 program to give kids the skills to learn to read, and a Web tutoring service.

Susan Mong, the Johnson County Library Foundation’s executive director who oversees both grants, said tutors are different from homework coaches.

“Tutors work more intensively with students,” she said.

The library contracts with Tutor.com to provide free, online tutors from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m to anyone with a Johnson County Library card.

The service, available to county residents of all ages and educational levels, includes help preparing for standardized tests, as well as tutoring in various traditional academic subjects and homework. Users can have as many as seven tutorial sessions a week in English or Spanish.

“It’s important because we want to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed in school,” said Barbara Brand, the Johnson County Library’s youth services manager who oversees Tutor.com.

The service started about five years ago, was discontinued in 2011 and 2012 because of too little funding and resumed about a week ago, she said. It also has a mobile application for smartphones.

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