Natalie Stepp calls her local homework help center a "savior."

Natalie Stepp calls her local homework help center a "savior."

The junior at Bishop Ready High School is a regular at the Hilltop branch library's after-school resource program.

"It's just a great place," she said. "A lot of students already depend on it. It's been a vital place for many, many kids. It really does help improve grades and help improve focus."

The homework help centers are now open in 20 branches of the Columbus Metropolitan Library system.

Students in kindergarten through 12th grade can get free help with their homework after school Monday through Friday the rest of the school year. Hours vary, but most three-hour sessions are held between 3 and 7 p.m. Tutors are on hand to assist students in a variety of ways.

Brandy Biegler, director of the center at the Hilltop branch, likes that more and more students are dropping by.

"We have about 25 to 30 students on a daily basis," she said. "We have a lot of regular students. It's part of their schedule every day."

Students don't have to register or sign up ahead of time to participate in the program, which started at the Linden branch in 2004. Computerswith Internet access, free printing, textbooks, reference materials and school supplies are provided free of charge.

Stepp said the library's technical support is invaluable to many students.

"At home I don't have a printer and our computer doesn't have the software my projects require," she said.

Kimberly Snell, spokeswoman for Columbus Metropolitan Library system, said the centers have grown in popularity, with 52,000 students participating in the 2009-10 school year. Homework help centers have been added at the New Albany and Hilliard branches. Library officials have been trying to raise private funds to open a center in the Dublin branch, Snell said.

Biegler said it's a great resource for students who want the extra help.

"It's not a study hall," she said. "They have to get their homework completed, get their assignments done. But it's also a lot of fun."