Nashville-based free tutoring program expanding to state’s largest school district in Memphis

By LEE JOHNSON | Nashville Voice

A new year may mean better grades for some students in Shelby County, Tennessee, thanks to a free tutoring program that’s opening a satellite office in the state’s largest school district.

Homework Hotline, which is based in Nashville, uses certified teachers to provide Tennessee students in grades K-12 free one-on-one tutoring by phone and online in subjects that include reading, language arts, math, social studies, science and Spanish. There is also help available for students in more advanced courses like AP calculus and AP physics.

The program is the only one of its kind in Tennessee, and only one of 10 nationwide. Besides English, it provides tutoring in five other languages: Arabic, Spanish, Kurdish, Somalia and Swahili. 

Most of the calls HH receives are from students in the Davidson County area, as many as 5,000 a year, compared to about 200 calls from students in Shelby County, according to HH executive director Rebekah Vance.

But that number is expected to increase drastically after the satellite office opens the week of Feb. 11 in Memphis. Shelby County Schools serves Memphis, as well as the unincorporated areas of the county.

Lori M. Phillips is director of family and community engagement for Shelby County Schools. She said there was a Homework Hotline program in the county years ago, but it closed.

Phillips said she’s glad to have the program back because there’s a need for it. She said parents do not always know the answers, and sometimes students still have questions after class.

“What better way to reinforce that than to have a number you know you can call to ask those questions,” Phillips said. “Our goal is to make sure that we remove all barriers, so that students can be their best self.”

Once the new office is set up, school officials expect the word to spread rapidly about HH because the new teachers will be able to promote it in their classrooms. There will be 16 tutors in the Memphis office. Phillips said more than 100 teachers have applied.

“That speaks volumes to our district, knowing that you have given 130 percent each and every day, and still willing to come and give in the evening time to help our students,” she said.  

Michael Ballentine is one of the 25 teachers in HH’s Nashville office. While some of the teachers are retired, he is among those who provide four hours of tutorial time after a long day in the classroom – and he loves it.

“I enjoy the responses I get,” said Ballentine, who’s been teaching biology, chemistry and physical science more than 30 years. “Just hearing their expression after I help them figure out a problem. I enjoy helping them be successful.”

According to a survey HH gave to students and their parents, 76 percent said the tutors were “very encouraging;” 68 percent said they/their child was more confident for class after using the service; and 95 percent said they would or have already recommended the service to a friend.  

“The best thing is that they always have time for you and know exactly what help you need,” wrote one student when asked to provide comment. “No matter how rude or irritated you get, they will stay polite and helpful. They continue to help you until you’re finished.”

Jim Wrye is assistant executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. He said HH is an asset to education in Tennessee. 

“It’s important that students get the support and the resources they need to achieve their learning goals,” Wrye said. “A lot of times parents working, extended family working, don’t’ have time to explain certain aspects of the assignments that they’re working on. So it’s great to have somebody at the other end of the line be able to walk you through those problems.” 

For more information about Homework Hotline, visit

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