Without seeming to delve into "politics," it is clear to anyone paying attention - who cares about schools and children - that the current administration in Washington has recently asked Congress for an additional $80 billion to continue the occupation of Iraq and the fight in Afghanistan, and in the same week has indicated that the new budget eliminates programs designed to keep children in school, and to help schools assist families in educating their sons and daughters.
Why homework in public libraries? What does the literature reveal about homework centers in libraries?
One highly important technical aspect of homework centers in libraries is the presence of research tools - and of course the appropriate filters so children are protected from pornographic Web sites - for those students who likely do not have the Internet at home. An article in Library Journal (Minkel, 2002) suggests that "librarians need alternatives when they want to direct kids to a suitable place to find answers." Minkel believes that "Web feet" and "netTrekker" are great databases for kids to jump online and quickly be trained to search for their history homework, their science, or even some quality biographical background on a hip hop entertainer they are writing about for their music class.
That having been said, many children "seem to be sophisticated Web users, they are not sophisticated searchers," he adds. He suggests that mentors and librarians should be training kids to search by using www.Lii.org;and albeit this article was written in 2002, the www.Lii.orgWeb site is indeed a practical, user-friendly site where the categories of what children will be (and should be) searching for are very clearly indicated. "Students prefer to find sites by topic instead of grade level," he points out accurately, and this site offers that opportunity.
Moreover, just turning children loose on Yahoo, or even Google, for example, with filters on, is not structured enough for most young people learning the Web's ability to help them with homework.
Library homework centers provide and extend "society's safety net," according to an article American Libraries, by previously mentioned author, Cindy Mediavilla, (Mediavilla, 2001). And for those non-believers out there who work in libraries and have not yet seen the value in separate centers for homework within the library facility, Mediavilla, a UCLA lecturer, says they will develop a "broader perspective" as one of their rewards, once they get involved. Seeing kids "quietly doing their homework instead of causing unbridled havoc" - and witnessing racially and ethnically diverse students working towards the completion of their education - makes "converts" out of doubters, Mediavilla explains.
Moreover," she continues, "librarians find it much easier to discipline kids' conduct when the library provides a specific space for doing homework." When there is a designated room for students' homework activities, "no matter how rowdy kids are in other parts of the building, once they step through the homework center's archway," she asserts, "they become serious students. The space itself defines the appropriate behaviors required to do homework, and so the library's rules of conduct are more easily enforced."
In a UCLA-sponsored study ("Homework Center Outcomes"), Virginia Walter and Cindy Mediavilla - who teamed up to receive and conduct studies based on an American Library Association research grant - came up with six "outcomes" regarding the success of homework centers in libraries, which will be paraphrased here.
A pair of survey instruments were created by the team; the first, to measure "the effectiveness of programs where teens receive homework" help; and the second, to "assess programs where teens provide homework assistance" (Walter, et al., 2003) to younger students and to their own peer group.
How were the surveys conducted? There were one-on-one interviews, "focus group protocols," and questionnaires those being surveyed had to complete in writing. The survey was conducted in a thorough manner: it was administered to teens, parents, and library staff and to parents; Mediavilla researched homework centers in libraries in Fort Wayne, in; and in Castroville, Culver City and Alhambra, California; Walter researched homework centers in libraries in Philadelphia, Oakland, Tucson, and in King County, Washington State.
Category number one ("Youth contribute to their community") showed that "Teens using homework center services" are "setting an example," according to parents and homework help providers; teens themselves believe they are "having a positive effect on their community." Meanwhile, "Teens providing homework center services" are "grateful for the opportunity" to help their communities. In particular, the report explains, "teens in low-income and ethnic communities have a keen sense of 'giving back'. They perceive that educational achievement of its young people is good for the community as a whole."
Category number two ("They feel safe in their environment") revealed that "Teens using homework center services" tend to "feel safe studying in the library after school"; and that sense of security goes further than just being away from "physical danger," the report explains. The students being helped "feel comfortable" and "cared for," and moreover, a sense of "trust" is created between the student and the mentor or librarian. Life issues, as well as homework questions, may be discussed, and the children appreciate that fact. As for "Teens providing homework center services," they "did not see the library as a particularly safe place" because of the tough neighborhood just outside the building; but on the other hand, these street-wise students pointed to the fact that "you're not really safe anywhere" when you're in the big city and in rough sections of those communities.
Category number three ("They have meaningful relationships with adults and peers") showed that many "teens using homework center services," while working with older assistants in a library homework environment, had perhaps their very first chance to interact with adults in a "non-classroom and non-parental" role. "One mother said it makes her daughter feel important that an engineer is tutoring her in math"; further, many of the students are basically impressed that adults would come to the center as volunteers, free of charge, to help children they don't know finish assignments and engage in the learning process. As to "teens providing homework center services," there may be a need for libraries "to make more of an effort to mentor their teen homework helpers," the researchers found. Those teen mentors "were often left to work quite independently," and not all of them "developed meaningful relationships" with the adult library staff.
Category number four ("They achieve educational success") - "teens using homework center services" - indicated that some of the children simply wanted to "get over the rough spots" of an assignment from a teacher. Others using the services were very appreciative of learning digital technology skills through the library Web facilities; and still others' parents reported "improvement in academic performance" which they attributed directly to the homework center in the library. It does not seem surprising that "teens providing homework center services" do not as a rule see that their help to others "enhances their own educational success." Many already believe they have achieved academic success, and the help they are giving reflects that success.
Category number five ("They develop marketable skills") indicated that "teens use homework center services" - along with their parents, their teachers, and library staff - see the centers as helpful for future job opportunities, in particular, the computer and math skills they improve while working with mentors and librarians. More than just raw skills at technological levels, the research showed that young people learn "cooperation, discipline, courtesy, and problem-solving" while in the homework center environment. Getting help with homework, and getting the homework done correctly, "seems to be a big confidence-builder," the study revealed. Meanwhile, those "teens providing homework center services" found that their work with younger students was a "resume builder" and/or a "plus on their college application." The job skills and training they received while working with the homework centers, the research indicated, provided "a much more desirable outcome than other jobs available to them," such as hamburger and other fast-food restaurants.
Category number six ("They develop personal and social skills") found that (in "teens using homework center services"), since "good manners are expected" and "patience is rewarded" and "teamwork" is encouraged, good communication skills are generally acquired by younger students, which helps them in all aspects of their lives. With the "teens providing homework center services," their hands-on help to younger, less sophisticated students, kind of "forced them" to employ and develop "new interpersonal and social skills." Albeit they discovered that parents can be "more difficult than their children" in some instances, they were able to "identify these challenges and talk about how they had learned to meet them."
Why homework in public libraries? How are volunteers and paid staff recruited for homework centers in libraries?
In her book, Cindy Mediavilla explains that more than 50% of "the public libraries that…