Bala Cynwyd’s hottest bar serves up multiplication instead of libations.
The Homework Bar on Montgomery Avenue is a collaborative social learning environment for middle and high school students to gain extra tutoring outside the constraints of a typical cubicle-like setting.
The bar and lounge was created about two years ago by co-founders and co-CEOs Ronit Tehrani and Edward Kraftmann.
It provides about 10 consistent tutors and two full-time bar tutors, who help students with their homework one-on-one or in groups.
“One thing for us was finding people that are passionate about whatever subjects they’re teaching,” Tehrani said. “It’s not someone who hates chemistry teaching a kid chemistry. It’s someone that’s pursuing it, has a background in it.”
They also offer fitness classes, SAT prep, clubs, games and a pool table, and they are developing classes on robotics, food chemistry and coding.
“If [kids] have an idea, we’ll go out of our way to make it happen,” she said.
Tehrani developed the program through her time as a 2015 Tribe 12 Fellow.
But two years before that, they started So2Speak, a nonprofit geared toward speech fluency and therapy that helps people who stutter.
“We have a method that has proven to eliminate any struggles they have in their speaking,” she said, whether they want to enhance their public speaking skills or other reasons.
The method was originally developed by Harvey Dolinsky, a man who had a stutter. Tehrani said he shared his method online for free.
“[Kraftmann] approached me and said, ‘I know this guy, I want you to come meet him, and I want to start an organization to perpetuate his legacy,’” she recalled.
“The stuttering community is small, so in order for this to be a viable company and organization, we need to take that method and do something bigger with it,” she explained.
The Homework Bar grew out of So2Speak as a way to expand that community to education overall in a fun, laidback and safe space.
The building also houses a driving school, Driven 2 Drive, which offers driver’s education classes and eliminates the wait time for driver’s licenses compared to other DMVs.
“We were the first company certified by PennDOT to do driver’s license testing, so students don’t necessarily have to go to the DMV anymore. They can come right here,” Tehrani said.
On any given day, the lounge helps around five to 10 students, working with more than 100 overall in its two years.
Students can drop by any day for $15 and receive tutoring for as long as they like (until closing), or they can purchase a monthly pass for $149, which includes unlimited weekday help as well as extra tutoring on Sundays.
“You don’t want to be the kid that [needs] tutoring, so this space takes a stigma out of that,” Tehrani said. “It’s more of a hangout where you’re tricked into doing homework.”
The lounge is nondenominational, but many Jewish students stop by from Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, Perelman Jewish Day School or local public schools.
“A lot of the public school students that are Jewish are able to then meet kids that are in the area that they wouldn’t necessarily know,” she said, which is a great way to network with other students.
Tehrani noted that she wanted the space to appeal to teens.
Black and red bar stools surround the black-top bar that has a multicolored neon frame around the bottom edges. Other walls hold dry erase boards, and there are several chairs, tables and trendy black and red couches.
“There’s a trend for a lot of kids of going into lounges,” she said. “Why not take that fun piece and combine it with homework, whereas traditionally you think of homework and it’s boring.”
Tehrani knows the importance of education firsthand.
“My dad is in the Oriental carpet business, and after Sept. 11 his business took a little bit of a hit, and financially it was difficult to stay in the schools I was at,” she said.
The Overbrook native started her studies at Perelman, then Akiba (now Barrack), and although she enjoyed her time there, she did not receive enough financial aid to remain in school. Public schools didn’t appeal to her, so she said she felt forced to drop out.
“I kind of wish I had this space when I was in high school,” she admitted, though she later earned her GED.
After a year in Israel, she came back determined to go to college.
“I was always very passionate about entrepreneurship and business, and I decided I wanted to go somewhere where I can continue growing religiously,” she said.
She earned her degree from Touro College’s Lander College for Women.
Her teachers there also inspired her.
“It was amazing seeing a lot of successful women who are religious and able to work and also have their religious life and family life,” said 28-year-old Tehrani, who now considers herself modern Orthodox. “There were a lot of teachers that went out of their way to make me feel comfortable.
“They really took into mentoring me, answering questions as they came.”
She hopes students at the bar do the same.
“You don’t have to need tutoring to have a question one night on your homework — why not get the help if it’s there?”
That message seems to be getting through.
Just last week, a 10th-grader told her, “I wish I had more homework so I didn’t have to leave.”
“That’s the environment that we created,” she said — even during midterms.
“I know if [teens] don’t have a place to go after school, they’re on the street or in friends’ basements, and it’s not necessarily a safe environment,” she added.
She said the bar allows students to grow and pursue their passions.
“All growth and all creation happens with education,” Tehrani said. “I hope they basically take away the fact that they can be a part of something. They can come here and see that ‘maybe I’m struggling in this subject or I don’t like school or I don’t like this,’ but there’s different ways of finding what you’re passionate about. It’s really passion that just takes you from being who you are to the next level.
“Homework can be fun. It doesn’t have to be forced.”
Contact: [email protected]; 215-832-0737