Boys & Girls Club facility honored for homework center

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldDecember 7, 2012 

Nine-year-old Oscar Tooley said he now has two places where he can concentrate on homework.

There's home, and there's the Boys & Girls Club of Benton and Franklin Counties' Music & Arts Center in downtown Kennewick.

Others students at Amistad Elementary School, including fourth-graders Yuliana Torres and Christopher Villasenor, both 9, also have found it easier to do math in the MAC's designated homework center.

"It's a lot quieter," Christopher said.

Amistad teachers and administrators recognized the center this week for its efforts in establishing a dedicated place for students to do homework. But that recognition is just part of a school program to help families establish a dedicated space and time for students to do schoolwork at home.

The goal is to improve student performance and connect with parents.

Amistad Principal Andy Woehler said he was in his first year as principal at the school when he attended a conference that offered strategies to work with parents, including helping them establish study habits with their children at home.

Woehler and his staff developed the idea from there, deciding to visit a student's home and provide an award when the family could show it had created a dedicated space for homework.

Amistad even provides a kit, filled with basic school supplies for the students to use.

Educators say having a dedicated place and time to do homework at home improves the likelihood of students doing the work and learning from it. That can be a challenge for some students at Amistad, which has a large number of low-income students who move frequently.

Christopher Cree, director of Boys & Girls Club center in downtown Kennewick, said he'll see up to 30 kids from Amistad throughout the school year. A portion of them now use the center's homework area.

"For most kids who are coming here, they have a home, but there isn't much space," he said.

During the program's first year in 2010-11, Woehler said he and teachers visited between 20 and 30 homes to give awards for setting up a homework space.

Last year, the home visits and awards jumped to 300.

This year, there have been no visits, but Woehler said his school did stage a parents night when staff set up mock-ups of different parts of a home to show how a dedicated space for homework can be accomplished -- be it in a kitchen or living room.

Woehler and other school staff said there are indications the program is making a difference.

Third-grade teacher Hugo Zavala said students are turning in more homework.

School counselor Erika Mendoza said students are asking for refills of their homework kits, such as when scissors go missing or crayons are used up.

And the goal of connecting with parents appears to be working, she said.

"A lot more parents are coming in (to talk to teachers and staff)," Mendoza said.

Now that homework centers are being set up in homes, Woehler said, the school can begin advocating for more education at home, such as using the space to read for 20 minutes a day or work on math games students are introduced to.

"It's all tied together," Woehler said.

Oscar, a third-grader, said he set up a homework center at his mom's house last year -- at a desk near the front door. He doesn't get to use that every day because he spends some days with his father, he said, but he definitely enjoys using it when he can.

"It's easier to concentrate," he said.

-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402;

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