By Joel Hall
For the last few years, students in Clayton County have been able to access homework help online from a real tutor, through the web site, Tutor.com.
That service has been available through the library system, 4-10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, because the Clayton County Library Foundation and the school system have split the $24,000 yearly operating fee.
On Thursday, the Clayton County Library Foundation raised over $16,000 for the program during a fund-raiser at the National Archives and Records Administration, Southeast Region.
Private donors from around the region came together to support the program, with the largest, personal donation of $10,000 coming from John D. Stephens, a local businessman and developer. Guest speakers for the event included: Errol B. Davis, chancellor of the University System of Georgia; Allan Vigil, former chairman of the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, and Thomas Harden, president of Clayton State University.
Clayton County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eldrin Bell established the Clayton County Library Foundation in 2005 to create a public-private partnership to help the library expand its services. Bell said it is part of a larger effort to create a library system "without walls," one in which students will have access to helpful library resources wherever students gather.
"I started this foundation in order to be a support mechanism to the library system in Clayton County, because I don't believe there is adequate funding to take it into the 21st Century," said Bell. "Thousands of children have been helped by the homework program, and to me, it's all about student achievement. What we hope to continue to do is create a public-private partnership to help our children receive the highest potential for their future."
Bell said he would like to eventually create a library system in which students can access homework resources even at recreation centers and athletic fields.
Carol Stewart, director of the Clayton County Library System, said this year's fund-raiser raised enough money to fund the program throughout the 2009 calendar year. However, the library system will face the same problem in 2010, if there is no additional funding.
Stewart said she eventually wants Clayton County's public library resources to compete with Gwinnett County, but to do so will require more funding.
"[The] Gwinnett County Public Library [system], if you go to their web site, their premium resources are outstanding, and it gives those kids a wonderful tool," said Stewart. "We have an encyclopedia available through Galileo (Georgia Library Learning Online), but they have World Book. For some people, World Book is easier to use.
"They have a bunch of things for business that we don't have," Stewart continued. "They are probably spending over $100,000, maybe even $150,000 a year to get all of this, and we are just not in a position to do that. We're spending about $50,000 ... that doesn't include live homework help, because it's paid for by the foundation."
Stewart said she is optimistic that when the economy recovers, the county will be able to purchase additional resources for the library system.
"We're hoping to add more, and that would be something we could do through the foundation," said Stewart. "That is Chairman Bell's vision, which I think is really exciting."