A student from Sousa Junior High School needed help with a homework assignment on the geology of Washington. Another, from Archbishop Carroll High School, was writing a report on space environment. And an elementary school pupil from Capitol Heights wanted information on the Sahara Desert.
Other students sought help with long division problems, history or diagramming sentences.
Some parents needed tutors for their children.
All of them called the Dial-a-Teacher program at the D.C. Teachers Center, where volunteer teachers from the city's public schools provided answers or suggested research sources.
"Most of the calls concern reading questions but we get a lot of calls about math and algebra," said Audrey Austin, a special education teacher at Bowen Elementary School.
"We go through the steps of working out a problem," Austin said. "It's very rewarding when you talk to a student and help them work through a problem and then ask them to do another one, until you are convinced they have learned something. If it's something we can't handle, Mrs. (Jimmie) Jackson (the center's director and a mathematics teacher) is always here to help us."
Austin said the teachers receive an average of 30 calls a day.
The program operates on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m. during the school year, and teachers are asked to encourage their students to participate. Fliers are distributed at schools and libraries.
"Teachers tell kids about the program and they use it," said Austin. "I have talked to teachers who know I work here, who say, 'You are really helping my class.' And they remind the children to call."
The Dial-A-Teacher program has a staff of eight volunteers who take turns answering the program's five telephones. The teachers, who usually work in pairs, sit at a conference table supplied with reference books in a third-floor classroom at the center, located at Goding Elementary School in Northeast Washington.
Jackson said the Dial-A-Teacher program was started in October to let residents of the District know that teachers are "as near as the telephone, ready to serve the students of this city."
Records are kept of the questions to help measure particular areas of concentration that may be needed.
Besides calls from the city's public school students, for whom the program was designed, calls come from private and parochial school students, college students and students studying for college entrance examinations, as well as students from Maryland and Northern Virginia and people in the city's GED (high school equivalency) program.
The Dial-A-Teacher phone numbers are 724-8727, -8728, -8729, -8732 or -8733.
Austin said most parents who call are concerned with finding tutors for their children.
Austin said she tries to determine first whether parents have discussed their child's problem with the school counselor. If talking with the counselor does not produce a tutor, the parents are asked to get back in touch with Austin. The parents also are advised to enroll their child in summer school programs as early as possible.
"Parents are so appreciative," Austin said. "After you give them the information, they start praising you for days."
She expressed surprise at the number of college students who call. "I thought when I got involved it would be mostly elementary and high school students and their parents," she said.
If teachers can't answer questions, they refer callers to other teachers, to a library or to one of the area's many resource centers for science, mathematics and other subjects.
Austin, a veteran of 24 years of teaching, is a vice president of the Washington Teacher's Union, which sponsors the center and its programs. She estimated she has devoted between 150 and 200 hours to the Dial-A-Teacher program.
"When I was first asked to volunteer, my reaction was, 'No, I don't have time.' And yet, when they continue to ask, you find the time. You have to fit these things in and you still have to cook, clean and do things for yourself," she said.
Doris Davis, a school social worker at the Sharpe Health School who also works as a Dial-A-Teacher volunteer, said she thinks the program is excellent.
"In addition to the assistance students get, in terms of helping them work through their problems," Davis said, "I think it is good training for them to be able to assume the responsibility of calling."
And, said Austin, "I still find it a challenge when I run into a child who can't read or do math and I can teach that child to read or do math."