The fourth-grade boy and Nancy Gavin had made a connection through fractions. Next came finding the areas and perimeters of different figures. Gavin started talking the boy through his e-learning math assignment. “What would you do now?” she asked him. “And now what?”

“One point where he gave the correct answer, I said ‘Oh that was great,’” said Gavin, a retired teacher from Indiana. “He said, ‘I’m really proud of myself.’”

And that melted her heart.

Retired teacher Nancy Gavin aids Indiana students by taking calls on the homework hotline from her home in central Florida.
Retired teacher Nancy Gavin aids Indiana students by taking calls on the homework hotline from her home in central Florida.

Gavin is one of more than 200 retired teachers helping kids with homework through the Call & Learn Hotline. The tool links K-12 students across the state with volunteers from the Indiana Retired Teachers Association (IRTA), the American Federation of Teachers Indiana, and the Indiana State Teachers Association.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, schools statewide shifted to e-learning mode. But there was a problem. More than two-thirds of kids statewide lack computers or internet access, said Trish Whitcomb, IRTA’s executive director of IRTA.

Whitcomb’s phone rang one day and it was Vop Osili, president of the Indianapolis City-County Council. “He called me and said, ‘Could your retirees help our kids over the phone?’” Whitcomb recalled.

Whitcomb didn’t balk. She started working, along with the Indiana Department of Education and the Indiana Association of Public Schools Superintendents, to make a teacher-run hotline a reality.

Lumina Foundation stepped up early, providing a grant that helped IRTA launch the hotline quickly at the end of April. Since then, retired educator after educator stepped forward.

“The teachers that I have talked to are thanking us for this opportunity to interact with these students again,” said Whitcomb. “That’s where their hearts are, with these students.”

And when they see a student succeed? “That is the reward,” said Whitcomb.

Here’s how the Call & Learn Hotline works: Students or parents call a toll-free number and give the student’s first name and grade level. They are then given a menu of choices that matches them with the appropriate teacher.

Middle school and high school students are paired with educators who have expertise in math, science, language arts, or social studies; elementary students are paired with general education elementary teachers. The hotline is open 1-5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

In compliance with stay-at-home guidelines, Call & Learn volunteers work from their homes. While calls are recorded, to protect the students and volunteers, no identifiable personal information is collected.

Gavin, who spent decades as an elementary school teacher, including a stint at Wayne Township Schools, has noticed that most of her callers request math help. That’s forced her to brush up on her own skills, she said, laughing.

IRTA members volunteer more than 1 million hours each year to educational causes, saving Hoosier taxpayers about $20 million annually. The association has been recognized nationally for its commitment to the community and state. The Call & Learn Hotline is merely its most recent effort—and Whitcomb says there’s more work to come.

“Lumina funding helped us build an infrastructure that can serve students beyond our original endpoint,” she said. “We know that the continued need for remote learning is an unknown, and we are ready to help.”

IRTA was founded in 1950 and is an advocate for Indiana’s retired educators, providing information and guidance before and during retirement. The association hosts local chapter meetings, regional events and travel opportunities that allow teachers to spend time with other retired colleagues.

The Call & Learn Hotline welcomes new volunteers. Any retired Indiana educator interested in volunteering for the program can contact or call (888) 454-9333.

Learn more about the Call & Learn Hotline.

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