Principal Gioia Forman knows the tricks kids play when they don't want to quit having fun: First there's foot-shuffling at the doorway, then a succession of I-forgot-something trips and finally a chorus of moans.
But she is unmoved. "It's time to go home," Forman tells the elementary students participating in a special after-school project. "You come back on Tuesday and we'll give you more homework to do."
More homework. That's what the kids want, the way some kids want more dessert.
Forman, principal of Hunters Woods Elementary School in Reston, is the woman who created the Homework Opportunity Program, or HOP. The idea is to raise the academic performance of her school's minority students by sending teachers into Stonegate, a nearby housing project, to help after school. The program is barely a week old, but its results are promising.
"Biking isn't fun anymore," said Leroy Lambert, 11. "Fun, it's coming here."
Last Tuesday and Thursday, the program's first two afternoons, about 70 elementary school children crowded into the recreation center at Stonegate and transformed it into a homework factory. It was as if someone had sucked the excitement from the video games standing ignored along the walls, and injected it into a subtraction problem.
Last year, after a study showed that black and Hispanic students in the Fairfax County schools were consistently falling behind their white and Asian classmates, the School Board made a public commitment to improve the achievement of minority students. The board left this up to individual principals, and Forman's answer was HOP. So far, it has caught on at one other school in the county, Dogwood Elementary in Reston.
At Stonegate, Leroy Lambert ignored the afternoon sun and its attendant pleasures as he hopped off the bus after school. Minutes later, he was concentrating on a writing assignment in the recreation center, legs wrapped around a tiny desk, pencil dangling from his mouth.
He was there, he said, because there is something strange and generous about teachers appearing on his home turf to help solve the problems they've assigned only hours before.
"I say that's a good idea," he said, a touch of mischief in his smile. "Nobody's at home to help but my younger brothers and my aunt, and she's asleep most of the time."
He tries to be convincing when he says, standing in a room loud with with homework hackers, that he concentrates better on his assignments at the recreation center.
Later he admitted he probably wouldn't be doing his homework at home anyway. The main reason he participates in HOP is that on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons the recreation center is the place to hang out. "Outside is fun sometimes when people are out there," he said. But "all of my friends are here."
The participating teachers extend their workday without extra pay. Why? "The program makes earning the little bit we earn easier," said Carroll Carter, a physical education teacher at Hunters Woods. "We move school here and they produce."
Suddenly, he said, the child who's been a "total hell raiser" in his class is listening to what he says. "He has walked up to me and asked if I would come back to the homework program."
One teacher said there was also the satisfaction of having a letter, its spelling and punctuation a bit haphazard, slipped into her hands:
"On behalf of the school we would like to say thank you very much because it help's us work faster and get smarter and get better grade's and it really fun."