Concerned parents and the District public schools are joining forces to help elementary school pupils get their homework done.
Two programs that have shown a measure of success through community involvement are the Home Study Center Program of the D.C. Public Schools and the Gage EckingtonSt. George's Church Community Partnership.
To help bridge the gap between low-income children and those from middle-income families, the school system and the Department of Housing and Community Development have proposed that their Home Study Center Program be expanded to include 10 more study centers in housing complexes throughout the District.
The school board is considering the proposal.
The program, which began in November 1986 in two public housing complexes, was designed to provide a quiet, well-lighted place for elementary school children living in housing projects to study, away from the distractions of television and siblings.
During the school year, the program is open from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday. It hopes to correct some of the educational inequities that exist for many of these children. By providing encyclopedias, computers and teaching assistance, the Home Study Program offers the children an environment comparable to that of many children from middle-class families.
"We're always getting positive feedback from the parents. They tell us how much the kids talk about the program once they get home. And the teachers say it is a program that is definitely needed," said Robert Abney, coordinator of the Home Study Center Program.
Abney said the children who attend the study centers need an "on-site program, not remediation, but a study place. Many of the homes are single-parent families, with a parent that doesn't have the time or they don't have the educational background to help the children with their homework."
Some of the children suffer from an apparent lack of positive reinforcement in the home and, as a result, their performance in school is compromised by a lack of confidence, he said.
Abney spent a few weeks in each center with pupils to learn how best to administer the program from his office in Amidon Elementery School. He is convinced that being there is part of the cure. "Sometimes all they need is for someone to sit and listen to them, reinforce them. I always say, 'Tell them what to do, not what not to do.' "
"Most of the children don't have the confidence to assert themselves," Abney said. "Why give the children frustrating assignments if they don't even have the reference books they need?"
Abney said he now tells teachers, " 'If you give a zinger, give them to us. We have the encyclopedias if they don't.' "
The home study centers are staffed with a director, an assistant and volunteers who supervise the children doing their homework and tutor the children who require special attention. The school system supplies five computers, furniture, encyclopedias and the salaries of the director and assistant.
The Department of Housing and Community Development selects and maintains the home study site in the housing development.
Gloria Coles, director of the James Creek study center, said the year-old program is popular with the children. Some who have graduated often come back to have their homework checked or help some of the younger children with theirs.
"We don't turn anyone away," she said, referring to junior high school students who come for assistance. "If they come for help, we give it to them."
Corporate sponsorship is being sought for the 10 proposed sites to shoulder some of the costs of starting and running the centers. Riggs Bank donated $10,000 to the second home study center at the Sibley Plaza Housing Complex that opened in November. The money was used to finish laying the carpet and buy books and other school supplies.
"Riggs has been an extremely helpful sponsor," Abney said. As many as 15 bank employees volunteer to work at the study center, and the bank transports the volunteers to and from Sibley Plaza after work.
Each program maintains a core group of 20 to 30 pupils who attend the study center three evenings a week, from a total of about 70 who come at least one day of the week, Abney said.
One homework program, run by a public school and a local church, is the Gage EckingtonSt. George's Church Community Partnership in Northwest. It provides about 25 elementary school children with a homework center and a summer program with classes in drama and dance as well as in mathematics, science, English and reading.
The program "gives the children a space and a place to do their studying and extra projects," said the Rev. Richard C. Martin, pastor of St. George's Episcopal Church and coordinator of the partnership.
The children meet in the school auditorium every Monday through Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m. during the school year. Students from Howard University and Banneker High School, and Gage Eckington community members help staff the program and supervise the children doing their homework in the school auditorium. Pupils who need extra attention receive one-on-one assistance.
The program's primary funding comes from the Office for Black Ministries at the Episcopal Church, which recently doubled its annual grant to $10,000. With donations from parents and people in the community, the partnership purchases books and other school supplies.
The program began in 1966 when Louise T. Spruill, a retired schoolteacher, and Mary Thompson, the Gage Eckington principal, created the Committee for Community Improvement.