Editor’s note: This post was by Monique Coleman, President; VISTAS Education Partners; Director, National Homework Hotline-BVI; Adjunct Instructor, San Francisco State University. Join Monique and colleagues for a webinar about the National Homework Hotline on March 18 at 5:00PM ET. Register here.
Imagine wrapping up your last zoom meeting of the day to find out that your child is struggling with arrays and factors and you are at a loss to translate what you learned about multiplication into the new terms your child’s school is using to explain math concepts. Now imagine your child is also using braille code to read their math worksheets and your dog just ate the piece of paper the vision teacher sent home explaining the new nemeth symbols on this week’s homework. As a parent it doesn’t have to come down to “the dog ate the homework key” to feel like your child needs help with their homework. It might be a question about their access technology, or connecting the device to the school’s online learning platform, or some new symbol in a braille passage, or something in the science homework; but at some point, all kids need homework help. Now, thanks to the work of dedicated volunteers with the National Homework Hotline (NHH-BVI), there is homework help for you and your blind or visually impaired children.
The NHH-BVI is a telephone-based homework help resource for blind and low vision students from 3rd grade through college. This free service was launched in March of 2020 in response to the wave of coronavirus-related school closures across the country. Realizing that blind and visually-impaired students would face challenges with the shift to remote education, long-time TVI, Monique Coleman, conceived of the hotline as a way to support their unique learning needs. Monique asked a few friends, Kristen Witucki, Brianna Murray, and Ida Behreini, all of whom are blind professionals, to join her in the effort. After some planning, organizing, and recruitment of additional volunteers from around the country, these dedicated volunteers launched NHH-BVI in a matter of weeks!
In a short time, NHH-BVI began to receive requests for assistance from students with a wide variety of access technology and education needs. Students who had received new devices for their remote education programs reached out for help with learning how to use screen reader technology, braille note takers, and refreshable braille displays. Some students requested help with applying their screen-reader skills in novel online learning platforms. In many cases, NHH-BVI responders provided multiple support sessions to help students develop their skills and confidence in these areas.
Last summer, NHH-BVI launched its Braille Reading Buddy program, which matches developing braille readers of all grades with NHH-BVI buddies for weekly reading sessions. During the weekly telephone sessions, the student reads from a familiar text as their buddy listens and helps them with braille symbol and contraction discrimination, phonics, and comprehension. Through assistance and encouragement from their buddies, students in the Braille Reading Buddy program build their braille reading confidence and skills.
NHH-BVI also has a team of volunteers who offer core subject area tutoring. Students in 3rd-12th grades and college can request weekly telephone tutoring sessions in English/Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, Science, and Spanish. Unlike traditional, in-person tutoring, the student’s curriculum content is the source material for NHH-BVI telephone tutoring sessions.
At its core, NHH-BVI is about more than homework help. It’s also about empowerment. More than 90% of NHH-BVI responders are blind people who are thriving and shattering society’s low expectations. Consequently, students who use NHH-BVI’s services are instantly connected with a network of adults who can empathize with their experiences and provide individualized tips and strategies to students. Organic mentorship often blossoms from the interactions between NHH-BVI responders and students, allowing students to take away much more than just homework help.
Reflecting on the NHH-BVI, founding member Ida Behreini captured the essence of the hotline’s mentorship value: “NHH-BVI responders can viscerally empathize with the challenges of the students. Braille display isn’t connecting? We’ve been there. Frustrated by slow braille reading speeds? We’ve been there. Trying to figure out how in the world to get JAWS to cooperate? Oh, you better believe we’ve been there! Our team of responders practice what they preach every single day, and students know it. Requests for help are answered mostly by thriving blind people who shatter society’s (and sometimes even the students’) low expectations. Students learn that their NHH-BVI helper is a graduate student, engineer, business owner, or published author—and they are blind just like them. And then a truly transformative thought occurs: “If they can do it, maybe I can too!”
To find out more about how NHH-BVI works and hear founding members share highlights from their work with the hotline, join the APH FamilyConnect Webinar on March 18th at 5:00 PM EST by clicking here and selecting the “Webinars” tab.
For homework support requests, visit www.vistaseducation.com/homeworkhotline.