Library offers new online tutoring program


Maggie Dickman

The Shorewood Public Library has teamed up with HelpNow, an online tutoring program. Students can get help in the afternoon and night, when school teacher aren’t usually available

The Shorewood Public Library is now offering a new online tutoring service called HelpNow. Put on by Brainfuse, HelpNow is a national platform with 20 years of experience.  

Perhaps HelpNow’s main attraction is the live tutoring sessions available from 2:00 pm to 11:00 pm. These sessions are not scheduled; a student can pop into them whenever they feel they need help in a subject, be it a specific homework problem or a review of a general concept. 

Before entering a tutoring session, the student selects their grade level and the subject they wish to be helped in. Based on these two criteria, the student is matched with a professional tutor.

According to a video on BrainFuse’s YouTube channel, “Live tutoring is one of the most popular features of Brainfuse HelpNow. Our tutors assist students with homework questions using proven, research-based techniques to help them learn the underlying academic concepts” (Brainfuse, 2020).

While all ages use the same platform, the method the tutors use to teach students of varying ages is tailored to the age group of the student.

“There are specialized tutors for certain grades that are aware not only of the subject also but also the different developmental stages that students are at, [and] the best language to use in teaching a student at that level,” said Rachel Collins, library director of the Shorewood Public Library.

In a tutoring session, the student’s screen will show a whiteboard, which both the student and tutor can write/draw on. None of the tutoring is video, everything is communicated on the whiteboard or through a chat function located on the side of the screen. 

In addition to drawing on the board, students can take screenshots of their assignment or textbook and paste them directly onto the whiteboard. Students who have downloaded the mobile app on their phones can also take a photo and send it to their desktop whiteboard using the “Snap & Send” feature.

The other main feature Brainfuse advertises is the HelpNow Writing Lab. Through it, students can submit any writing of theirs to receive feedback on. 

“You can ask for specific help or they will give some general feedback,” Collins said. “They don’t rewrite your paper –– they don’t do the work for the student. They’re really focused on making suggestions for improvement.”

In addition to live tutoring and writing feedback, HelpNow offers a variety of other educational resources, including flashcards, a college and career quiz called eParachute, a Language Lab for learning foreign languages and what they call “SkillSurfer.” 

“SkillSurfer is a library of lessons, practice tests, videos and more. It is excellent for anyone who needs help on a topic, but may not have a specific question. You can work through lessons independently or connect with a live tutor if you need further assistance” (Brainfuse, 2020).

Test prep is available as well. Currently, HelpNow features a FAFSA Live Help tab, where seniors and their families can get help filling out the form. 

To access HelpNow, students will need a library card. More specifically, they need the 14-digit library card number as well as a PIN

“Getting a library card is pretty easy,” Collins said. “I suspect that most students do have or got a card at one point during their time in school. If you aren’t sure if you have a card or you want to sign up for a card, I encourage everyone to just give us a call, stop in, send an email, and we will look to see if you have an account. You do need a library card, but they’re easy to get and they’re free. For students, parents are required, and we do have a way you can do an online registration.”

Once they have a library card, students should not simply search for “HelpNow” in their browser, as that will likely take them to a HelpNow portal registered under a different library system. Instead, they should navigate to the Shorewood Public Library homepage, hover over the “Grow: Skills & Knowledge” dropdown menu, and select “Tutoring and Job Help.” Here, they will find a link that takes them directly to the Shorewood HelpNow tutoring portal. 

Schools going virtual, and remaining virtual, was a main reason the library started looking for an online tutoring service.

“As the summer hit and we realized COVID was going to continue to be around and that the schools were going to start the year virtually, we at the library knew we wanted to have a way to support students given the altered learning environment that we were going into,” Collins said.

Before finalizing their subscription, the library reached out to the school district to see if HelpNow was something school administration thought the students would benefit from. The answer was “yes.”

The addition of HelpNow means students now have access to multiple opportunities for academic support beyond the standard classroom. SHS National Honor Society members already set up an online math tutoring system that matched a high school senior with a middle school student. When it comes to choosing between the two, Tim Kenney, high school principal, says HelpNow might be an opportunity for students who aren’t comfortable working with a fellow student.

“[HelpNow] came at just the right time because in working with some parents who were requesting to get some tutoring in place, one of the things that came up is that it’s possible that students who are struggling might not be necessarily too excited to be working with one of their peers, even if it’s someone who’s a couple grades older because when you’re struggling, it’s not always easy to admit that things are difficult and that you need help,” Kenney said.

Generally speaking, however, Kenney believes that the personal connections that could be made between two Shorewood students makes the NHS tutoring the preferred option for students looking specifically for structured tutoring in math. 

A Google Form was sent out in September to SIS staff and parents as a sign up for the NHS tutoring program. While it started out just focusing on tutoring SIS students, it has expanded to include SHS students as well. Anyone who wishes to join can still sign up using the same form or reach out to their counselor. 

The introduction of HelpNow was spurred by the needs that arose from virtual learning, but the library will continue to offer this service if enough students make use of it.