BPL's Popular Homework Assistance Program (HAP) to End This Month, But What Will Replace the After-school Tutoring Service in the Branches Next September Is Uncertain

The Homework Assistance Program (HAP), that placed high-school students in their local libraries to tutor elementary-school children living in the same neighborhood, is ending this week. It is unclear what will replace the four-day-a-week after-school service in September, according to Anne Smart, head librarian of the South End Branch. It may continue for two days a week, but what will be available the rest of the time for students seeking homework help is still unsettled. Tutors participating in HAP were paid between $8.25 and $10 an hour, depending on how often they work. They are high-achieving students from Boston's public and private schools, a number of whom had been in HAP themselves when they were younger.

Jessica Snow, the BPL's Youth Services Coordinator, reacting to the outcry by the BPL's children's librarians in March, suggested that " there may be opportunities for the HAP mentors to participate in by volunteering”  instead of being paid. This may not be welcome news for some: Angela, a Josiah Quincy School junior,  who is in her second year as a HAP tutor at the South End branch, said that the money she earns is important to her. "It's the only job I have. I like not having to ask my mom for money," she explained. "She already struggles because I have two brothers in college. It's a lot of pressure for her."

Another HAP  participant at the South End branch, Winnie, said she would continue tutoring, even if she isn't paid. The Boston Latin School junior had been in the program when she was in 4th grade at the Quincy School in its Chinese bi-lingual program: as the oldest child in a family where only Chinese was spoken, she needed the language boost HAP gave her. "After I left, Margaret kept asking me when I would be a sophomore so I could tutor other kids myself," said Winnie, referring to Margaret Gardner, the children's librarian at the South End library. "One day, I showed up and said, 'I'm a sophomore now,' and then I began to work with the kids after school."

The news about the discontinuation of HAP came without a warning to the branches this March, upsetting children's librarians all over the city who valued the program. But according to one grant writer close to its funding strategy, the BPL  kept no reliable data to support the program's effectiveness. The library didn't appear to keep close track of the children they served, and the data that was available was a count from the teens who are placed in each library. Teens would count everybody they talked to as a participant regardless of whether they actually helped them with homework. It was also difficult to measure whether HAP had any impact on school performance, as there did not seem to be a connection to the schools or data from teachers.

HAP cost the BPL an estimated $200,000 a year and was a popular fundraising target for the BPL Foundation. As recently as last November, donors could become sponsors during a Foundation Gala Benefit, as well as during the the April “Big Thrill” fundraiser which listed the HAP program as one of its beneficiaries at that time (the web site for it has since been changed to reflect that HAP is no longer a fundraising goal).

South End branch head librarian Anne Smart said there is still a lot of 'push-back' by children's librarians at most branches to salvage the program, which is seen by her and most other branch librarians as beneficial at many levels. "The tutors earn some money and are motivating the younger kids because they are high-achieving students," she said. "The young ones can't wait to become tutors themselves."