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Rose-Hulman starts new year of homework hotline

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A free tutoring service that has helped thousands of middle and high school students for the past 22 years opened for the 2013-2014 school year on Sunday.

The textbooks were in place, headphones ready, computers on and phone lines open in the basement of Logan Library on the campus of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology for Homework Hotline, a free math and science tutoring service that helps students in grades 6-12 throughout the state.

Students who need extra help with homework can get it for free by calling, emailing or chatting online with tutors at Homework Hotline.

Phone lines and online chats are available between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, through May 2014.

"We will help everybody," Tony Karras, Homework Hotline assistant director of outreach and planning, told the Tribune-Star..

Funded by Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and Lilly Endowment Inc., Homework Hotline has been helping students since 1991. The service has answered 401,839 calls since its inception.

It started as a free community service for students in Vigo County. In the early 2000s, it has grown to serve the entire state of Indiana.

Karras said calls come from every county in Indiana. Last year, the hotline even got calls from 46 states across the country.

During the school year 2012-2013, the hotline answered a record 36,906 calls and conducted 3,767 online tutoring sessions, according to a Homework Hotline fact sheet.

"When this place is buzzing (with calls), it's a fantastic experience," Karras said as he stood by workstations Sunday.

Callers are usually students, but parents, teachers and college students also call.

The tutors take an average of 300 calls an evening.

And they are eager to get the calls.

"We want them to call. Kids shouldn't be afraid to call," said Megan Hildebrand, a tutor and student supervisor.

And Homework Hotline is well-equipped to help.

The tutors are Rose-Hulman students who were selected by faculty for their "technical knowledge and ability to communicate clearly," according to a fact sheet provided by Homework Hotline. It is a paid student position.

There are about 150 tutors on staff and more than 30 answer calls and online questions each night. There are 40 workstations in the facility.

Tutors have access to current textbooks, computers and the Internet.

"These are some of the most brilliant students in the country. They can figure it out," Karras said.

While a majority of the questions are on math and science, the tutors also answer questions on English, history and foreign languages, Hildebrand said.

Tutor Casey Mihal said that most of the calls are algebra questions but there are also some geometry and pre-algebra questions.

"We love taking hard questions," the sophomore chemical engineering student said.

"Those are the most fun," Hildebrand said, adding that when tutors get a hard question, they work together to solve it.

However, tutors do not give answers. They, instead, guide students through the problems to help them better understand concepts.

And sometimes, it's not easy to do.

"You have to be a little creative," when teaching the students, Hildebrand said. She added that concepts sometimes have to be explained in different ways to see "what clicks with them."

But the tutors enjoy their job.

"We're touching so many different lives. . I feel like we're really doing something great here," Hildebrand said.

The best part is "that 'aha moment'" when students finally understand how to solve the problem, she said.

Mihal and Hildebrand both said that with tutoring, they also get to brush up on topics that they learned in the past, which is an added benefit for them academically.

It is a win-win for all involved.

Karras said that in traveling around Indiana for his job, he often hears people say, "The Homework Hotline saved me in high school" or "Because of Homework Hotline, I passed calculus."

"That's really rewarding for me to hear that. In fact, I hear that a lot," Karras said.

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