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Library can help struggling students, parents

Library can help struggling students, parents

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I’m a former educator. I taught several years in parochial schools and another several years in public schools. There are many differences between the two types of learning environments, but the one thing that really struck me in the public schools was the number of kids who didn’t experience security, structure, safety, regular meals, heat in the winter, and educational support at home.

I’m not saying their parents/caregivers weren’t doing their best. Life is way more of a struggle for some people than for others — like folks who work hard but just don’t make enough money to pay all the bills. Imagine not having enough cash for groceries or electricity. If that’s the case, then there are certainly no financial resources for home computers or internet service to help children with their schoolwork.

I had a young man in one of my middle school English classes, who, when asked to write an essay about his favorite place, wrote that he loved being at school more than anywhere else. He had a desk that was his from the moment he entered the classroom until the moment he left, he had a locker he didn’t have to share with anyone, paper and pencils were available if he didn’t have any, he got lunch every day, there were art and P.E. classes, and there was an adult available at all times to help him, listen to him, and smile at him. Behavior-wise, he could turn a teacher’s hair from brunette to gray by year’s end. I loved that kid.

Had the COVID-19 pandemic struck the year I was teaching that young man, I’d have lost him ... and others like him. Technology didn’t exist then as it does now. There wouldn’t have been Zoom classes. Even if there had been, he wouldn’t have shown up. He wouldn’t have owned a computer or lived in a house with internet service or someone to help him, keep him focused. He had a parent, a single mom, and older siblings, but they’d have lacked the equipment and expertise to assist him.

Were I teaching now and had a student such as he, I’d likely track him down and find some way to keep him learning. And, I’d tell him and all the grown-ups in his family — and maybe any neighbors who wanted to help — that they should contact the library and tell whoever answers the phone that they’ve got a kid who’s going to fall far behind in his schoolwork if something’s not done to help him.

Why the library? Because the people who work there likely could direct the child and his caregivers to a place where they could find support, or the librarians would announce that there are programs already in existence at the library to address such needs. Case in point: the Homework Gap Project being offered by the Catawba County Library System. It’s for parents and caregivers.

According to Catawba County Library System director Siobhan Loendorf, the Homework Gap Project is a State Library of North Carolina undertaking begun a couple of years ago to aid K-12 students “who are assigned homework requiring access to the internet but don’t have home internet access,” as stated on the state library’s website at

The website goes on to say, “The State Library of North Carolina and the Broadband Infrastructure Office of the North Carolina Department of Information Technology have partnered with North Carolina libraries to develop and implement a holistic model to equip North Carolina’s public libraries to address the K-12 homework gap in their communities.”

Contributing to the gap, the state library has recognized, is the lack in some families of three necessary components to information technology: devices, such as laptops and tablets; internet service; and technology know-how among the adults in the homes.

A handful of North Carolina city and regional libraries piloted programs to provide these components. Then COVID-19 struck, and the need became exponentially greater. To put it another way, the gap became practically a black hole for some kids.

The Catawba County Library System is addressing the crisis in two ways: One is the execution of the Homework Gap Project; the second is something called Homework Helpers.

Siobhan explained that because Catawba County was invited by the state library to participate in the Homework Gap Project, the county has access to the project’s curriculum, which was created by the state library working with the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and “we get an assigned graduate student (from UNC-G) to provide support to families — to everyone — during the program.”

In brief, parents/guardians participate in eight free virtual training sessions beginning March 16 and continuing every Tuesday from 6-7:30 p.m. through May 4. Here’s maybe the most important thing to note: Said Siobhan, “Laptops and Wi-Fi hotspots will be available for extended checkout for people who need them for this class. We don’t want (a lack of equipment) to be a barrier.”

And remember, there’s that digital navigator person coming from UNC-G to help out. I would imagine there are people who’d be stumped from the start, who wouldn’t even know how to get the laptop and hot spot working so they could participate in the class. (That would be me.) No problem. The navigator can help as can all sorts of people who work at the library. Furthermore, the navigator will be available to answer questions and offer suggestions throughout the eight-week course.

So, call the library ASAP: 828-465-9494. The deadline to register is March 5. The person to talk to is Jenn Schraw.

Now to the second way the Catawba County Library System is addressing the learning crisis: Homework Helpers. You’re going to love this because news about young people doing great things gives a person a reason to have a little faith in the future.

Donna Mull, Catawba County Extension Agent — 4-H Youth Development, oversees the Catawba County Youth Council, which is composed of area high school students. Per Siobhan, Donna encourages each year’s council members to decide the types of projects they’ll work on based on the needs they see in the community. For the current year, the students developed, among other projects, Homework Helpers because they know kids are struggling with schoolwork.

Youth Council members will make themselves available to tutor elementary and middle school kids on Mondays from 4-6 p.m. at the Sherrills Ford – Terrell Branch Library at 9154 Sherrills Ford Road, Terrell; on Mondays and Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. at the Main Library at 115 West C St., Newton; and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon at the Conover Branch Library at 403 Conover Station Southeast, Conover.

This will be first-come, first-serve in-person free instruction that will last through May. Each participant will receive a maximum of 20 minutes of help unless no one is waiting. Should there be a crowd, Youth Council members will help kids “get connected at the library to online homework help offered by area schools,” said Siobhan.

I know there are many students and parents out there who feel lost during the pandemic — and lost even when no pandemic exists. The library has solutions.

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