The Downtown Education Collaborative Celebrates the First One Hundred Days of its Afterschool Homework Help Program By Sherry Russell: Director, Downtown Education Collaborative

By 4:30 p.m., things are in full swing. At one table a student is carefully lettering “Eleanor Roosevelt” on the cover of her biography project.
At another, students are hunched over sheets of graphing paper, rulers in hand. A middle schooler is virtually dissecting a frog on a computer program; his neighbor looks up from vocabulary homework in disgust.
Every afternoon, Monday through Thursday, the computer lab at the Lewiston Public Library is full of students, tutors, and piles of homework. The whirlwind of activity is the result of Promoting School Success, a new initiative of the Downtown Education Collaborative. The homework help program has just reached its 100th day. It is a good time to celebrate the students, their college-age tutors, and the educational partnership that sponsors them.
The Downtown Education Collaborative opened its doors on 219 Lisbon St., Lewiston this fall after several years of planning. Its members include the four “Colleges of the Androscoggin” (Andover, Bates, Central Maine Community College and the University of Southern Maine Lewiston-Auburn College), Empower Lewiston, Lewiston Adult Education and the Lewiston Public Library. Through DEC, they work together on community education projects that no one institution could do alone.
In collaboration with other partners, DEC has launched several projects this year. The Local Food for Lewiston project (whose sponsoring agency is St. Mary’s Health System) pursues research and advocacy to strengthen food security and community nutrition. Bridging the Digital Divide draws on college students to staff two computer labs in downtown Lewiston, offering residents access to the Internet and training in computer skills.
Promoting School Success was launched in the fall of 2008. Funded by a grant from the Androscoggin Bank’s MainStreet Foundation, the project responded to a growing need for academic support among middle- and high-school students. One pre-existing program at the B Street Community Center served primarily younger students; another, at Trinity Jubilee Center, would serve as a model for this new program.
Lewiston Public Library staff recounted stories of youth lining up at the reference desk with homework questions.
In response, DEC launched the Promoting School Success initiative at two sites, the Lewiston Public Library and Lewiston High School. (The LHS site is managed in collaboration with Lewiston Adult Education.) Both venues are staffed by students from the four member colleges, with a staff coordinator at each site.
On day one, Sept. 22, 10 students showed up at the Lewiston Public Library. Now, 100 days later, more than 225 students have made use of our homework help; some twenty to thirty attend daily. The program has received more than 2,000 total visits from students.
The popularity of the program owes a lot to the expertise of its tutors. Faculty and staff from DEC’s member institutions came together to create a comprehensive tutor training program and handbook. Some tutors earn work-study wages for their effort; for others, tutoring is a community-service requirement for a class; still others do it for the satisfaction of volunteering. Community members have gotten involved too, visiting once and quickly becoming addicted. The variety of tutors guarantees a range of knowledge. Biochemistry majors, history majors, paralegal students, and former teachers are spread out around the room.
The students who attend the program not only benefit from the tutors but build connections to them. They have come to know who specializes in which subjects. They often leave get-well notes when tutors miss an afternoon because they are sick.
The students themselves attend on an as-needed basis. Some come daily; others drop in only when they are stumped on a concept or need to use the computers for a project. Attendance is noted but not required.
Many students have earned better grades, applied for summer jobs, and aspire to go to college.
As Promoting School Success heads into the home stretch, there are many successes to be proud of and many challenges still to meet. The need for academic support in downtown Lewiston will persist, and as the program continues to generate enthusiasm and dedication, more and more students will be concentrating harder than ever on their reading, writing and arithmetic.

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