It is just after three in the afternoon when about a dozen students pour into a room at the Rondo Community Outreach Library in St. Paul. There is chatter around the tables and computers. This space is the school work and mentoring place, better known as the SWAMP. The SWAMP is opened to anyone, young and old, who want help with their homework or job search assistance.
Abdifatah Mohamud, a 19-year-old student at St. Paul College, has been going to the SWAMP since it opened in 2006. Back then, he was a high school sophomore; he’s continued at the SWAMP because its tutors have provided him with the necessary one-on-one attention he’s needed to stay on top of his school work. This extra instructional time outside of the classroom has contributed to his overall academic achievement.
As in Abdi’s case, SWAMP’s success hinges on its dedicated volunteers like Brian Smith, a University of Minnesota senior. He used to be a private tutor but decided to volunteer his services instead to students with a greater financial need. The SWAMP exposes Smith to a broader variety of students and wider range of topics. He’s learned a lot of new things from his students while contributing to his community.
Max Bielenberg, an America Corps VISTA volunteer, is the SWAMP coordinator. His interest in education and desire to be involved in his hometown led him to this service opportunity. In his short time at Rondo, Bielenberg has seen the program’s positive impact on students who participate.
“One of the most positive things in my opinion is that it seems to have become part of people’s daily routine like they go to work or school and then they come to the SWAMP,” he says. “There is a lot of repeated attendance.”
There are six homework centers, like SWAMP, at St. Paul’s 14 library branches. The city’s library staff and board members recognized its services must stretch far beyond just book borrowing and reading support programs. This led the way for homework centers within the library system. In most cases, the libraries made space within the existing facilities
However, because Rondo was going to be a newly constructed building, those in charge of construction ensured a SWAMP space in initial planning.
It provides a physical space, along with a conductive learning atmosphere. Moreover, students have unlimited access to computers for school work activities.
Homework centers, like the libraries housing them, are tremendous community assets, meeting community needs in practical and accessible ways. Many of Abdi’s friends can walk a few blocks to the Rondo branch. For Abdi, there’s an easily accessible bus.
Students and volunteers view the SWAMP as more than just a homework center, but as a community. For Abdi the SWAMP always feels open and welcoming. It’s a place to enjoy the company of his friends and work on assignments in groups or individually.
Library services play many roles. At their most basic, libraries help ensure a well-informed, well-read society. More recently, they’ve become a community center for all ages. As this article demonstrates- through Abdi and volunteers like Bielenberg and Smith-libraries are an extension of Minnesota’s school system, providing homework and academic help. As other Minnesota 2020 articles highlight, libraries have also become valuable social resources, where Minnesotans can use free internet to access information on public health and other vital services.
Essentially, libraries provide the threads binding a community’s fabric. Their services are critical to expanding Minnesota communities’ vitality and prosperity.
Watch our recent video about the SWAMP program:
Volunteering for Community Literacy