Charlestown’s O’Brien Finds a Home as a Homework Helper

On most Monday or Thursday afternoons, one can find Charlestown’s Jim O’Brien sitting in the front room of the Charlestown library, actively helping students organize their homework assignments.

It’s an assignment he’s not unfamiliar with having been a Boston Public School teacher for 41 years prior to taking on the Homework Helper program 12 years ago.

“The Homework Helper program is in every public library in Boston, including Copley Library which has two Homework Helpers,” he said. “The program is designed to work with elementary and middle-school students who need help determining what the homework assigned is. It’s not necessarily tutoring but they bring their homework and if they have a problem, I can help them clarify the assignment. I’ve also had high schoolers come in. I’ve had seventh graders come in from Boston Latin who wanted help with their Latin. I even once had a woman from Bunker Hill Community College come in that simply wanted to practice speaking English with me. It’s just a great service in the communities.”

Homework Helpers have been around for many years, and it is a 50-50 partnership between the Boston Public Schools and the Boston Teacher’s Union. The majority of the Helpers are retired teachers like O’Brien, and they set up at libraries a few times a week after school to provide free assistance – whether through an appointment or just as a walk-in.

O’Brien sets up two days a week, Monday and Thursday, from 4-6 p.m. The program typically runs from late September through May.

“The idea is it is to supplement the kids before they take MCAS,” he said. “If they’re having trouble with an assignment, they can just walk in. There is no appointment necessary. I’m just grateful the School Department and Teacher’s Union has coordinated this. It’s great public relations for both and it also helps the kids in the community.”

O’Brien is a fourth generation Charlestown resident and is involved in many of the Town’s organizations, including the Old Charlestown Schoolboys Association. He started his school at the old St. Mary’s School, and then went to high school in St. Mary’s of Cambridge.

“I had the misfortune of never going to nursery school or kindergarten,” he said. “My parents put me right in first grade. Consequently, I was a 15-year-old senior in high school and a 19-year-old senior at Suffolk University. When I started teaching, I couldn’t even go out for a drink with the other teachers after school.”

O’Brien student taught at the old Charlestown High School and taught English elsewhere as well. However, he decided he wanted to try something different and went back for a graduate degree at Boston University for broadcast and television. From there, he landed a job leading the radio and TV broadcasting program at Madison Park High School. He said he taught there for many years and had wonderful experiences with the kids and the program.

“I had a lot of kids accepted into Emerson and they still keep in touch,” he said.

His last run in the BPS was as a librarian at Madison Park, which he said he really enjoyed.

Shortly after retiring, he said he decided to become the Homework Helper, initially in East Boston and then in his hometown of Charlestown.

“I can’t complain at all about getting here,” he said. “It’s a four minute walk from my house.”

O’Brien is ready to help students at the library every Monday and Thursday, 4-6 p.m.

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