Academic Help

By Diane Schlindwein

June 10, 2011 4 min read

With a new school year getting under way, chances are you and your child have created some special September resolutions that involve maintaining healthy homework habits and getting great grades.

However, even the most well-intentioned student may have trouble with math, science or some other subject. If you are the parent of a child who is struggling in one or more classes, homework can be difficult for both of you. But even if you aren't comfortable with the subject and can't afford a private tutor, there are many places to look for help.

Start out simply. Ask another one of your children or a bright young neighbor who is familiar with the school subject to sit in on a few homework sessions. Be sure to remain close by and pay attention so that you can step in when needed.

You may want to check with your child's school to see whether it offers tutoring, says Beth LaFata, a professional school counselor. LaFata's school district has a tutor bank listed on its website. Some of the tutors are volunteers and are willing to help a child while accepting little or no salary. The school district also offers peer tutoring for older students.

"Our school has after-school help clubs that assist students in specific subject areas where they are most lacking or deficient -- such as reading, math or science," says Travis Tschacher, a school librarian. "This service is provided by classroom teachers to students and their families at no cost. Grants and local fundraising efforts, such as our school walkathon, provide the monies necessary to compensate certified staff to stay late and provide remedial or homework help instruction. Our local Lions Club chapter also funds some of those services. Teachers recommend that students get help in specific areas when they notice homework isn't getting done or is completed improperly. Parents are then notified of the free after-school service, and a late bus picks students up and drops them off at home after an extended day."

Though not every school has such an extensive program in place, Tschacher says it is typical for dedicated teachers and faculty to want to assist struggling students. "For example, I will also just help students with homework who come into the school library on a casual basis after school," he says. "Of course, I do it at no cost. A lot of librarians and teachers do this informally."

LaFata also recommends visiting the public library. "There are so many resources for learning and discovery available through the library," she says.

Some public libraries also offer tutoring or special help for struggling students. You only have to ask, says Tschacher, who has worked in both public and school libraries.

Other places to look include local churches, nonprofit agencies and community centers. Check to see whether teachers-in-training at nearby colleges will offer free tutoring as a way to gain teaching experience. Call area schools to see whether they know of any retired teachers who act as volunteer tutors.

No matter what tutoring route you take, make sure your child is aware that you truly care about his or her school success. "Let your child know that you think education is important and so homework is important," LaFata says. "It is so important not to demand perfection. When your child asks you to look at something she has done, show interest, but let the teacher do the critiquing. If you have criticisms or suggestions, make them in a helpful way."

Most importantly, LaFata says, you should monitor what your child does after school, in the evenings and on weekends. "Stay connected to the school by getting involved, and be sure to have open communication with the teacher and any other staff member who is involved in your child's learning."

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