Sunday, April 18, 2004

Teen gives homework help

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

ERLANGER - Students worldwide seek help with their homework every day from 14-year old Erlanger resident Samantha Kampsen.

They come from around the United States, Canada, Norway and Australia with questions in algebra, biology and history. And the straight-A, eighth-grade student from St. Cecilia School in Independence doesn't mind at all.

"I enjoy helping people," said Samantha. "It's a great feeling knowing you make a difference."

Samantha started the Homework Hotline Web site in July. The bulletin-board format allows students in all grades anywhere in the world to post questions and receive help from her and others logged on.

In the first two months there were about 1,000 visits to the site, but very few posts, leading Samantha to think "it might go down the tubes."

But today, with more than 24,000 visits, 1,600 posts and 77 registered members, the site is a hit with those seeking free, online tutoring.

"We have a lot of college, high school and middle school kids, but it's mostly high schoolers," said Samantha. "Many of the questions I don't know the answers to, but I do research to help these people out."

The site is divided into 21 specific school subjects in six categories - math, science, English, social studies, foreign languages and creativity. There are also sections for games and book reviews.

Answers are not given, but help in finding answers is. If someone repeatedly gives answers, Samantha can lock them out of the site. So far, nobody has been banned for that reason, but five users have been kicked off for trying to advertise their own homework help sites.

Samantha's parents, Steve and Heather, let her give the venture a try after she presented them with guidelines and sample Web pages last summer. It didn't take long for them to realize the value of the site for their daughter, who has been an avid computer user since she was 4 years old.

"It was in the first month when she was getting questions in higher math beyond her age," said Heather. "We watched her do the research to help someone with a question, and we said, 'Yeah, this is good.'"

The site was free for Samantha to build, allowing her to make it free for her users. She spends at least 20-40 minutes a day monitoring it, but also has help from the other side of the river.

Matt Volpenhein, a senior at St. Xavier High School, read about the site in the Enquirer last September. Since then, he has checked the site about five times a day, helping Samantha answer new questions.

In the fall, Matt will attend Ohio State University, where he is considering a double major in electrical engineering and math. Despite his schedule, he plans to continue helping on the Homework Hotline.

"I'll stick with it as long as it's around," he said. "It definitely could get bigger. Our main problem is getting the word out about it."

Samantha will keep the site going this summer, and hopes it will gain popularity in the fall when she attends Simon Kenton High School.

"I hope to advertise it to the students there by word of mouth," said Samantha. "With 1,000 students, that would be great."

Visit the Homework Hotline by clicking on the link at the St. Cecilia School Web site.


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