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Engineering school provides homework hotline

A ninth-grader in Nancy Hepler's Algebra One class still has questions about his homework tonight. But he knows exactly which number to call.

The "Homework Helpline," a program the Engineering school's Rodman Scholars Student Council started two weeks ago. Albemarle County high school students who call will reach an engineering student who will respond to their questions about homework problems or algebraic concepts. The line will be open on all school nights - between 7 and 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday.

Hepler, who teaches Algebra One at Western Albemarle High School, says she will pass out magnets with the phone number on them to her students today. She believes the program may help several of her pupils.

"I'm excited to tell them that they have this number they can call for help," Hepler said. "Lots of students don't realize they need extra help until after they get home at night."

The Homework Helpline was the brainchild of Margaret Kramer, a third-year engineering student and Rodman Scholars student council president. Kramer, who is from Indiana, was inspired by a similar program - the "Homework Hotline" based at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute. She watched the Indiana hotline grow successful and said she believed Albemarle County schools also could benefit from such an initiative.

"We're looking to fill the time gap when the students are doing their homework, when they have no other resources," she said.

The lines remained relatively quiet over the past two introductory weeks. But Kramer expects more callers as word spreads and as ninth graders prepare for the Standards of Learning tests at the end of this school-year.

Rob Kelly, director of the Rodman Scholars program, was pleasantly surprised when 30 students volunteered to "listen to the panicked pleas" of the local algebra students.

Kelly said the phone is the most convenient and accessible way for most college and high school students to stay connected now. In the future, they may consider using Internet or instant messaging systems to expand the tutoring program.

Hepler said explaining algebra concepts over the phone "would be a little difficult, but I think it can be done."

Tutors will have a copy of the county's math textbook on hand, which organizers said they hope will help tutors visualize specific problems along with students.

"Just the concept of factoring or goofy stuff like that, that can easily be explained on the phone," Kelly said.

Currently, there is only one phone, a cell phone donated by SunCom - to serve the 3,000ópotential algebra students who might call. But because Kelly and Kramer are unsure how high student interest will be, they will not consider expanding the amount of help until the end of the semester.

The hotline can be reached at 466-8706.