La Jolla Library’s Homework Helpers offer coaching


“At the Homework Help table, one must be prepared for anything,” opines La Jolla Library volunteer Marty Ries. The free after-school program offers assistance with a range of school subjects for all ages, from 12:30 to 6 p.m. every Wednesday at 7555 Draper Ave. It is back in full swing with the start of the school year.

While Ries’ specialty is French and English, she has helped students with a variety of assignments in her three years of volunteering with the program.

“Last year, I did a lot of work with one young lady who had to give a speech every week. I would sit with her and she would give her speech to me,” she said.

“And there’s this little boy who needs help practicing reading, so we sit down together and read. He’s been reading (the children’s book series) ‘Captain Underpants,’ which has been a whole new experience for me (laughs). He asks me what different words mean and we look them up together.

“My major in college was French, so when I had a student who was taking French one year, I just loved it! Any time she had French homework, I got so excited.”

Ries said she’s been with the program since it began three years ago. She is one of six volunteers posted at the Homework Help table in the children’s area each week. And like most of the volunteers, Ries is a retired teacher.

“I taught for 35 years and when I retired, I started to miss working with kids,” she said. “So one of my friends took me down to the library because I wanted to start a book club for kids. That didn’t materialize, but in the process, I heard about the Homework Help program getting started. I started when the program started.”

Homework Help launched in spring 2017, and is not associated with the San Diego Public Library’s system-wide “Do Your Homework @ the Library” program.

Youth services librarian Dana Sanchez told the Light: “Most students come with English and math homework. We’ve had kids show up who need help with essay writing, history and science projects — our volunteers have seen and done it all! Our coaches are not tutors — meaning, they do not have their own curriculum they teach the kids — they are coaches who help children with the homework they already have.”

With textbooks from Muirlands Middle School and La Jolla High School on site, and the Homework Help cart equipped with flash cards, reference books (including a “math dictionary” for coaches who need a little refresher themselves), pencils and paper, erasable white-board segments for working out equations, and more, the program is open to anyone who walks in the door.

“You never know who is going to come, and it’s a little slow the first few weeks of school, so we mostly have our returning students from last year,” Ries said. “We get to work largely one-on-one, and that’s the best scenario, because I get to meet kids where they are and with what they have; I don’t have to plan lessons or grade homework. But sometimes I’ll try to come up with something in case the same child comes back the next week.”

With the only challenge being many kids showing up at once and needing help in different subjects, Ries calls her volunteerism “rewarding.”

“There is nothing in the world like seeing that light bulb go off when a student understands something,” she said. “It’s rewarding to see kids look for books, pick them up and make discoveries.”

While Ries has a hold on reading and writing, June Dandliker is often on site helping with arithmetic.

Quietly sitting with two students — one in elementary school and one in middle school — on a Wednesday afternoon, she works out various levels of math.

“Having a program like this is more relaxing for students than being at school, and most teachers are busy after school, and cannot give the one-on-one attention,” she said. “Some kids come every week … ”

She pauses to help third-grader Victoria, with her work. Dandliker, a retired Bishop’s School math teacher, asks Victoria to show her how she got to an answer (which she spotted right away as incorrect).

Dandliker said her approach to helping kids “get it” is to guide them to understanding the process, rather than just getting to the answers or relying on memorization.

“I remind them that there are very few things in math they have to memorize. If you have to memorize, most of the time, it’s a sign you’re not understanding it.

“Knowing the circumference of a circle is helpful, but most things have a common sense explanation. That way, you can still figure something out without memorization.”

Counting together, and having Victoria explain her process out loud, she quickly gets to the right answer.

Of the program, librarian Sanchez said: “Even though the schools in our community regularly achieve high test scores, the La Jolla Library recognizes the need for providing students with additional academic support outside of the classroom.

“Homework Help is a great afterschool program and resource for both parents and kids alike. Children can get personalized help with their homework from one of our friendly and qualified homework coaches and parents can rest assured that their children are getting the individual support they need in a safe and welcoming environment.”

IF YOU GO: Homework Help is offered 12:30-6 p.m. Wednesdays at the La Jolla Riford Library children’s area, 7555 Draper Ave. Advanced registration is not required, students are seen on a first-come, first-served baiss. Free. (858) 552-1657.