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City library to provide online tutoring to Chicago students

Updated: November 5, 2013 6:25AM



Help is just a keystroke away for Chicago students stumped on homework assignments or struggling to grasp difficult concepts before a school test or college entrance exam.

After following through on a promise to expand the popular “Teacher in the Library” program to all 80 public libraries, Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Thursday added online help to the mix.

Thanks to a $50,000 contract with Brainfuse, the Chicago Public Library system will provide online tutoring seven days a- eek from 2 to 11 p.m. in English or in Spanish. The service can be accessed — by first-graders all the way up to high school seniors — using a home or library computer by all students with a Chicago Public Library card.

Emanuel joked about how he struggles, at times, to help his own three children with their homework.

“I get to eighth grade math and I’m like, ‘Whoa. You’ve got to call [someone else.] . . . U.S. history? Give me a little. World history? [Fine]. Math and science? [Not so much]. We all know that feeling because, as the parent, we’re the first instructor,” the mayor said during a budget roundtable in the library at Mary Lyons Elementary School, 2941 N. McVicker.

“If they have a library card, they all get the online tutoring. And it’s all year. So, it doesn’t just go with the school year and it just doesn’t go with the Teacher in a Library program….All they need is their library card, and that library card is their passport.”

There will be no voice communication between student and tutor. Questions and answers will be communicated in writing using a chat room.

The service also includes a so-called “white screen” that will allow students struggling with a geometry or other math problem, for example, to use their mouse to draw the problem.

“We don’t want to do a Skype session. We’re trying to protect privacy. They’ve tested a variety of approaches. This is the approach that’s been effective in many other cities,” said library commissioner Brian Bannon.

“Technology is allowing us to do some pretty cool things at a much more reasonable cost. What other cities don’t have is additional support within the walls of the library. By adding online, it really is the most comprehensive, soup-to-nuts program in the country.”

Teachers in the Library started in 2000 with a $60,000 contribution from the Chicago Public Library Foundation that was enough to pay for just six teachers.

It has now been expanded to all 80 public libraries, thanks to partnerships forged with teacher certification programs at local universities, including the University of Illinois at Chicago, DePaul, Loyola, Northwestern, Dominican, National Louis University, North Park and Columbia College.

During the 2012-13 school year, Teachers in the Library provided 62,402 homework help sessions.

Based on those results, Bannon said he expects the online component to be most heavily used by third- through sixth-graders.

“We purchased a number of licenses based on what we anticipate demand will be. If it’s wildly popular, we’ll purchase additional licenses,” the commissioner said.

He added, “There are many kids in Chicago whose parents can afford to hire them a tutor. What we’re trying to do is say that every kid in Chicago needs some support now and then. This one-on-one support helps kids improve test scores and get answers to the problems they’re having.”

Email: fspielman@suntimes.com

Twitter: @fspielman



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