Homework helper

After school kids learn at the library


From checking out books, to returning others to the shelves, Riverdale children’s librarian Nicole Figueroa stays busy. But not so busy she can’t take time to tutor Hadasah Ndegwa and Dakota Jackson on rounding decimals.

It’s something you might not expect to see from a children’s librarian. However, it’s a regular occurrence during the week at the Riverdale branch of the New York Public Library.

It’s all part of “Quiet Homework Hour,” a free after-school program where librarians work with students and parents to assist with class assignments. The new initiative scored high marks with parents and students.

“What I like about the librarians is that they make fun things, so we don’t realize that we are actually learning,” said Hasadiah Ndegwa, a third-grader at P.S. 81 Robert Christen. She usually gets help with math and spelling.

“I can take out books and my friends are here,” said Hadasah Ndegwa, a fifth-grader at P.S. 81 —— and Hasadiah’s older sister. “Sometimes we have the same homework so we can help each other.”

Their mother, Monicah Muraguri, brings her children to the library every day after school. It’s been a tremendous help, especially since the math students do today is not how she learned the subject growing up. That sometimes makes it difficult to lend a hand for homework.

“They help me with my math by telling (me) how to solve” the problem, said Enid Beltran, a third-grader at P.S. 81. The librarians also help Beltran with her spelling.

Farangez Hikmatova has a second-grader at P.S. 81 as well as twins in kindergarten. Making time for all of them, especially when it comes to the most critical part of their early education, can be difficult.

“It’s not easy to do homework with three kids at the same,” she said. “You need to find time to help each one of them. It’s pretty time-consuming.”

The homework program provides Hikmatova with an extra pair of hands as she helps her children with their after-school assignments. Spending time with other students also has other advantages.

“They like to compete with each other and it stimulates them to do it better and faster,” Hikmatova said.

Hadisa Anvarsho faces a language barrier when it comes to helping her three children. Anvarsho, whose first language is Farsi and relaying her thoughts through Hikmatova, said her English skills were not strong enough to best explain math.

The idea for the program came after the library staff noticed parents who frequented the branch struggling to help their children with schoolwork, said Rebecca Brown-Barbier, Riverdale’s branch manager.

The program, which serves more than 40 students daily, also promotes reading — awarding small prizes like stickers and pencils motivating them to read more books.

Figueroa runs the program with Richard Ryan, a former teacher. The two plan visual displays on the building’s walls to support topics students are studying at school, or order books to ensure the library has the appropriate reading materials on-hand to support in-class assignments.

Math is by far the most popular topic students bring to the library, Figueroa and Ryan said. Some of their biggest issues can come with word phrasings for the math problems.

Although the branch is not working in any official capacity with schools, the library staff keeps abreast of school curriculum — especially Common Core educational standards — through their conversations with teachers and parents.

The program at the library, located at 5540 Mosholu Ave., runs Monday through Thursday from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., serving students from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“It’s difficult for working parents to come home after work and then spend all that time doing homework when they could be doing the job of the other parts of parenting, which is the socialization, the cooking dinner, having the conversation with their child,” Brown-Barbier said. “So, if the children can get their homework done here with the resources that we have available, then it’s a win-win for the community.”

Hadasah Ndegwa, Dakota Jackson, Hasadiah Ndegwa, Monicah Muraguri, Farangez Hikmatova, Richard Ryan, Rebecca Brown-Barbier, Hadisa Anvarsho, Nicole Figueroa, Riverdale Library, Lisa Herndon