NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A new program offers free homework help for parents and students struggling with remote learning.

It’s staffed by volunteers and organized by a local congresswoman.

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As CBS2’s Kiran Dhillon reported Tuesday, thanks to the COVID crisis, the Bustamante sisters have learning remotely since March.

“It’s hard to pay attention because you can easily zone out,” said 9-year-old Gabriella Bustamante.

Single mom Stacey Bustamante said while she’s been trying, it has been challenging to help her girls with their schoolwork.

Schools: The New Normal

“I’m not a teacher, so that makes it very difficult,” she said. “I don’t know the work. The math is completely different from when I went to school.”

To help families like these, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez launched a pilot program called “Homework Helpers” in October.

As a way to bridge the widening education gap, organizers have paired up 120 students with volunteer tutors for free weekly homework support.

“We work with the parent to make it work for them. They are the ones that are really stressed right now, so if they need a session or flexibility to do something on the weekend, that’s what I would say would be the distinguishing part of the program,” said Jonathan Soto, a political organizer. “We don’t want to supplant teachers. We are not here to serve as an alternative to public schooling. We’re here as volunteers.”

CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC

Bronx outreach volunteer Amanda Turcois is one of the helpers. She signed up because it was a way to be connected to her community during the pandemic.

“I love education and helping people, so when I heard of this I thought it was perfect,” she said. “With everything that’s going on, I feel like students or kids and their parents are suffering the most when it comes to actual learning. It’s so hard to learn through an actual computer.”

Organizers say initially about 500 people signed up as volunteer tutors for the pilot program, but when New York City schools closed again a few weeks ago, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez put out another call for volunteers. This time, the response was even more overwhelming. Another 13,000 people have signed up to be volunteer tutors.

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While there is no specific criteria to sign up, volunteers that are approved must complete training and a background check. The program has no budgeted funds, but operates with campaign staffers volunteering time.

The Bustamante family said the program has been a godsend.

“What’s it been like for you?” Dhillon asked.

“It’s been good,” said 8-year-old Gia Bustamante.

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“The tutoring really makes it easier for the kids. It’s a one-on-one situation where they can ask direct questions where, when you’re online for classes, the child is muted,” said 8-year-old Stacey Bustamante.

With the new influx of volunteers, the goal is to expand the program to 1,000 families in the Bronx and Queens by June.

Organizers say right now, each child receives one hour a week of free homework help, for four weeks. After that, they can sign up for group sessions.

For more information about the program, CLICK HERE.

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