By Rebecca Parr
Staff Writer, Bay Area News Group
HAYWARD -- Buoyed by a double-digit rise in test scores of students attending a homework tutoring center, the city and school district are adding five more sites this year.
The new centers will double the number of homework centers already offered by the district -- two at branch libraries and three at elementary schools -- where students can spend time after school with volunteers tutor in English and math.
The first homework center at a school was opened in 2011 at Longwood Elementary, a low-performing school in the north part of town. After attending after-school sessions for eight months, those students' state standardized test scores in 2012 shot up 30 points, or 10 percent, in English language arts, and 20 points, or 6 percent, in math.
"That was exciting," said Sean Reinhart, city library director. "That's what led us and our partners in the school district to say, 'Let's see what we can do to expand.'"
In April, homework centers were opened at Harder and Park elementary schools, funded by Hayward Promise Neighborhood, a five-year federal grant designed to improve student academic achievement in the Jackson Triangle neighborhood.
This school year, the program will be rolled out at two more elementary schools, Southgate and Lorin Eden, and three middle schools, Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez and Winton. The centers at Cesar Chavez and Winton also are funded by the Hayward Promise Neighborhood grant. The other schools were chosen because they are west of Interstate 880 and not close to city libraries, Reinhart said.
Hayward Unified trustees on Wednesday unanimously approved $60,000 to fund for a year the new centers not covered by the Hayward Promise Neighborhood grant. The money also will pay for the center at Longwood, which was operating under a grant that has run out. Most of the funds will be used to pay site supervisors.
"The program is very cost-efficient," Reinhart said. "The tutoring is delivered by highly trained volunteers or work-study students from Cal State. They do a great job."
Volunteers are provided and trained by the library. Currently about 150 volunteers, plus 30 to 40 Cal State East Bay work-study students, take part. The ratio is 1 tutor to 3 students, and 1-to-1 if a student needs more help.
The first homework center began at the Main Library in 2009 and expanded to Weekes Branch Library in 2010. The next year, the library partnered with Hayward Unified to open the Longwood center.
Each center serves about 250 to 290 students, with 80 to 100 dropping in on a given day, Reinhart said. On the first day of school this year at Park, which operates on a year-round calendar, 133 students showed up. About half of the students at Longwood took part last year.
"It's a busy little program," Reinhart said.
A popular feature at the Longwood center is the book-vending machine. Students swipe a card, push a few buttons and a book drops into the hatch at the bottom.
"The machines function exactly like a typical junk food vending machine, except that instead of being filled with chips and candy, they're filled with books," Reinhart said. "We've put books in the machine that encourage a lifelong love of reading. The kids love it. They empty it constantly."
A book-vending machine has been installed at Harder, and more will be added later this year at Park, Winton and Cesar Chavez.
The openings of the new centers will be staggered, Reinhart said.
"We want to make sure each center is up and running before we move to the next one," he said. "We haven't determined the exact order, but we hope to have all of them open by January or February."