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Library Tackles School Questions
Rebekha Petroski, a freshman at Bremerton Junior High School, says her mother "is not a math person." And she feels somewhat guilty about asking her math teacher to stay after school each day for help.
"They have lives, too," she said.
But having a free online tutor to send instant-message questions to is perfect, she said. At the Sylvan Way branch of Kitsap Regional Library, she typed in a question about absolute equations. Within seconds, her tutor explained how to solve the problem.
"This is excellent," Petroski said with a smile. "This is definitely something I'm going to use."
Kitsap Regional Library officials hope so. They agreed to spend about $25,000 per year for the service.
"The fee might go up if our usage increases," said Ruth Bond, the branch manager at the Sylvan Way library, "but that's no problem. We want students to take advantage of this service."
Responding to a community survey, Kitsap Regional Library is offering more help with local schools. Once passive in their outreach to students, Kitsap libraries are now taking a more assertive role. Library administrators call this student outreach the most significant shift in the library's function since the introduction of the Internet in the mid-1990s.
"There's more of a partnership between schools and libraries now," Bond said. "That hasn't always been the case. But that's what the community has told us they want, so that's what we're delivering."
KRL subscribes to Live Homework Help, a California-based online company that offers paid professional tutors in math, science, social studies and English. Spanish-speaking tutors are available for math and science.
Kitsap students can log on for online one-on-one tutoring at any of the nine branch libraries. The service also is available on KRL's home page. There are tutors available year-round from 3 to 10 p.m. weekdays for students in grades 4 to 12 and pre-college.
Students and tutors remain anonymous. Students can type in questions using instant messaging software, use drawing tools for geometry assignments or send an attachment of an essay to the tutor for review.
With so many teenagers today comfortable with instant messaging, the online tutoring program is expected to be popular.
"For some reason, I feel less embarrassed when I type in a question," Petroski said. "I guess because it's anonymous, you feel more comfortable."
KRL quietly launched the program in April to work out any kinks over the spring and summer. After drawing eight students that first month, the number shot up to 69 the next.
"Once word-of-mouth spreads, we figure a lot more students are going to use it," said Kim Doyle, youth services director at the Sylvan Way branch. "We imagine this will be really popular."
While elementary students have used the online tutors, most of the users so far have been high school students.
"That's when a lot of parents are no longer able to help their children with math," Doyle said, "and a lot of those students don't feel like they have a place to turn to. That's where we try to help."