Remembering the hotline that helped generations


Photo by Cecilia Bernstein

The notice that lets MCPS students know that after 33 years, the Homework Hotline would be shut down but there would be other places they could get homework help.

By Cecilia Bernstein, Staff Writer

This program had been with MCPS for the last 30 years, yet it was not utilized to its fullest. Homework Hotline Live (HHL) was an online service and call-in show which ran for 33 years. Students were able to call in with their homework questions and the teachers who worked on the program would help solve them on-air. But, as its use decreased over time, MCPS decided to dissolve the program once and for all.

One of the best parts of the hotline was that students could get live help from teachers and talk to them, while they worked through the questions. At a time when use of the internet was not as widespread as it is now, it was a vital resource for students.  

“Teachers who were on-air would speak directly to viewers during the live show, speak to callers, answer homework questions and provide general homework support,” Zac Cornell, a former on-air teacher for the HHL, said. “Some years, I was there one night a week, other years I was there two nights a week.  We would get all kinds of questions in and never knew what to expect, so the teachers had to be ready for anything.  It was challenging, but I really enjoyed the challenge.”

Over the years, students enjoyed the help that the Homework Hotline was able to provide them. If they were having trouble with homework, students would be able to call into the show and get feedback almost instantly.

“I think the Homework Hotline was a good outlet if students didn’t understand what they were learning at school,” Shray Bhandari, a freshman at WCHS, said. “The process of calling in wouldn’t take too long and that’s what people liked about it.”

At its peak, the Homework Hotline had several people per day calling in with questions on their homework. Students and parents of young children would call the phone room, and teachers would convey the questions to the on-air talent.  

“Another great part of working with Hotline was that we would get students who used the service over multiple years,” Cornell said. “There were a couple students who I kind of got to know from their calls across their time in elementary school, then middle school, then high school.”

As requests from students began to slow down, the HHL tried new ways to try to reach students. Social media, phone calls, texting and even the use of the messaging app Kik were attempted to gain recognition from students, but none seemed to work. By 2019, the version in MCPS shut down partially due to a lack of funding for the show and the internet becoming increasingly available for MCPS students to find the answer to their question.

“The volume of phone calls gradually dropped over several years,” Cornell said. “HHL actually tried using several newer methods to connect with students.”

With the emergence of homework apps like Quizlet and Kahoot that let students practice any subject they want, being able to run a successful live television show was hard for HHL.

“It’s so easy to just go online and search up the answer to any question you have,” Bhandari said. “I think that’s part of the reason why the Homework Hotline hit such a major decline in viewers.”

The question resurfaces: will the Homework Hotline return or not? In its greatest moments, the HHL was extremely popular and MCPS students would use it on a regular basis. In this day and age, one would have to wonder how they would make it work.

“Maybe extending to new platforms like Tik Tok or the next popular thing would be enough to reach a wider audience,” Cornell said. “I like to think that, as long as there’s a demand for the program, then there’s a chance for it to come back.”