PORTLAND — The Portland Public Library is a very busy place after school, where staff are often asked to assist with homework questions.

To give students the help they need, the library is now offering middle and high school students formal homework help every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.

“We see many students after school who need assistance with homework, (but) library staff was not able to keep up with the demand and still effectively serve our other patrons,” Teen Librarian Kelley Blue said.

That’s why the library decided to institute a system for providing assistance with homework, or other needs such as filling out job applications, creating a resume or applying for internships.

“The Teen Library is especially busy after school (so) we wanted to create a space where teens could work with volunteers one-on-one without disruption. Our homework help volunteers are here to help any teen who needs (it),” Blue said.

“In addition to traditional math and English help, our volunteers have also helped teens to complete resumes and applications, and we’ve even helped two students set up and navigate their Turbo Tax account for the first time.”

The program began in January, but so far not as many teens have taken advantage as staff had hoped, Blue said. She speculated it’s because such assistance was only offered informally and sporadically in the past.

Now, she said, “we are able to offer a space with consistent, dedicated homework help volunteers who can focus their entire attention on the students.”

Blue said the two volunteer tutors are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Students can sign up in advance at the teen desk, online or by phone at 871-1700, ext. 773.

She said the library is not looking for additional homework help volunteers, but it may need more people when for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Blue said the volunteers are expected to have “general knowledge” of high school-level English and math, and should also have experience working with adolescents. There is an application process and a routine background check is mandatory.

Blue said homework help being offered at the library is different from what teens might be able to access at school or at the Boys & Girls Club because the library is “a unique space in downtown where teens congregate to socialize and work.”

“They are already here, and now we’ve added a casual, drop-in tutoring service to the space they are already occupying,” she said.

In addition, Blue said, the mission of the library includes providing “resources and experiences that inspire imagination, curiosity, awareness and learning, and this program facilitates and complements student learning.”

Janet Dosseva, a Portland resident who works in youth substance use prevention, is one of the homework help volunteers.

Dosseva said she signed up because she’d already participated in several events at the teen center and enjoyed her experience. “Kelley mentioned (the library) was hoping to pilot a homework helper program and I was instantly interested.” 

What she’s most enjoyed, so far, is that the type of help and support she provides varies from week to week.

Initially, some of the teens were “reluctant to engage with the homework helpers since it was a new program and they didn’t really know us,” Dosseva said. “But I think that’s changing and now they’re more likely to ask for help in a specific area.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

The Portland Public Library at Monument Square is offering homework help to middle and high school students twice a week.