Stuck on homework? Just dial the 'smart' ones

Rrring! Rring! "Hi." "Is this Homework Hotline?"

"Yeah."

"I'm working on a term paper on civil disobedience. I've done most of the research, but I need your help."

"Do you know how you want to start?"

"Well . . . no."

"I have an idea. You could begin by defining civil disobedience, explaining what it is. Then tell how it was first used, probably by Mohandas Gandhi, and after you have the pages you need, conclude by telling how well it works."

It was about that simple. A straightforward combination of good answers with unpolished eagerness. If I actually had a term paper to write and wasn't just trying out the hot line, I might have used the advice.

Actually, I might have been answering the phone if we'd have a hot line when I was in school back home, but the Monitor's education editor, after I told her about the new service, suggested I try it out and write a short piece for the education feature pages. I did, and this is what I learned:

It's not yet in the Yellow Pages, but Homework Hotline is providing a way for as many as 25 junior and senior high school students a night to get one-to-one help on homework.

From 5 to 9 each school night, two or three high school seniors -- honor students -- sit in the headquarters of Orange Unified School District answering telephones and giving advice to fellow students on their homework.

In its second month now, Homework Hotline is an idea spawned in the youth committee of the Orange Rotary Club. It first occurred to Jan Linthorst, a psychiatrist with a family counseling business and a Rotarian, after reading last summer about Dial-a-Teacher in Philadelphia, a federally funded panel of teachers who man telephones to give homework advise.

Dr. Linthorst saw the idea as a way for the Rotary Club to "stipulate interest in homework and provide tutoring" for those who needed it.

The superintendent of Orange Unified School District, another member of the Rotary Club, coordinated the project with the school district, arranging for the use of telephones in the district's main office and recruiting support for the program in local schools.

Mr. Linthorst, who is overseeing the operation, keeps a log of the calls made to the hot line. Most calls come from junior high students, he says, and the most frequent questions are on mathematics, although help on writing papers and things like map reading come up frequently.

The student who answered my call has a grade point average between 3.9 and 4. 0 and plans to major in computer science and marketing next year in college. His high school principal had called him out of class earlier in the day of ask he would be interested in volunteering an evening as a hot-line counselor.

"I thought it sounded like fun," he recalled, "and it's a chance for me to get my own homework done."

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