School on Wheels has provided educational support and services to literally thousands of School age homeless students. We cannot tell all their stories here, but we do have a few that we think show the success of our program and why we need more volunteers and supporters to help us help our students succeed in school and life. You can also read about our Star Students that are featured on our website every month.
Angela graduated from UCLA in 2013 and is currently pursuing her Masters in Education.
Khadijah Williams, a former School on Wheels student, began moving from shelter to shelter with her mother and younger sister when she was 6 years old. When there were no shelters available, Khadijah says she and her family slept in motels, bus stations and sometimes on the street. We caught up with Khadijah in 2013 to talk to her about her college experience and how School on Wheels had helped her. In May, Khadijah will graduate from Harvard with an AB in Sociology.
Have you enjoyed college?
Yes and no. I have met lots of new people and had many great and fulfilling experiences, but it has also been a challenge, especially in my senior year, since I knew I would be leaving soon. Four years…this is the longest I have lived anywhere.
Can you tell us about your time with School on Wheels?
The time that I attended School on Wheels’ after-school club on Skid Row was a vulnerable time for me. I was homeless and ashamed of it. I wanted to hide being homeless from my friends and teachers at school. But I liked having somewhere to go and somewhere safe to study. But the most important thing that School on Wheels provided for me were caring, committed, and accomplished adults. Having the same tutor, seeing the same faces… It seems like very little, but it has a huge impact, especially in the life of someone who has no stability. When people think of issues homeless students face, they often think of material resources, such as school supplies and backpacks. But it is not just that; emotionally and psychologically it affects you too. It is hard to focus on academics when you aren’t even sure where you will stay or eat for the night or next week. Although I was a high performer in school, I never had a permanent home or was part of a community. This made me insecure, guarded, and though friendly, closed off to my peers.
How many times did you move schools?
I changed schools twelve times, attending five elementary schools, three middle schools, and four high schools. By the time I got to 8th grade, I was two years behind in school. Originally having the highest grade in my elective P.E. class, I failed the course because I no longer lived in the county but hadn’t been officially un-enrolled. Even if you have an ironclad resolve and focus as I had (immensely difficult for most homeless students) these issues begin to wear on you physically and emotionally.
Who is your hero?
I have many heroes, but one special lady deserves special mention: My mom. My mom is my ultimate hero because she dealt with so much and kept us safe. It was an amazing accomplishment with her mental illness.
Khadijah’s mom died in 2010. She was still homeless.
High school senior and School on Wheels student, Yhomira, is surprised with a makeover and new laptop for college!
Raven’s desire to help others who have experienced trauma will serve her well when she attends San Jose State to study mental health and child psychology.
Raven was delighted to speak with us when we asked her to share her thoughts on School on Wheels, graduation, and more:
How did you find the motivation within yourself to graduate from high school?
My motivation came from being around other women in the shelter. Everyone had a dream at one point, but they just gave up. I knew I had to succeed for them and for myself.
How important has it been for you to have a School on Wheels tutor in your life?
When I first met Anna, I didn’t think there was much we could do. I was almost a year behind in credits, but we made a plan together. Anna called and emailed me all the time to make sure I was staying on track. I really needed that because my mom was too busy trying to get us out of the shelter. Anna was the only one there for me.
If you could send a message to the younger generation of homeless children, what would it be?
Despite what you see around you, believe in the impossible. I want to go to medical school someday, and around here, that seems impossible. But even if I don’t make it all the way to medical school, I know I will go far.
Anna Chow, Raven’s tutor, shares positive words about her exceptional student:
“Raven has been through a lot of instability with her family and has experienced homelessness. At such a young age, the hardships that Raven has endured have caused her to stay strong; she is determined not to let her past predict her future.”
Despite a background of homelessness, abuse, and neglect, Kaleef has “overcome daunting circumstances” and earned a place at UCLA, where he will begin studying communications this fall.
Here is an excerpt from Kaleef’s powerful scholarship essay:
“Ever since I can remember, my father was very abusive towards me. He used whatever was in his reach to hurt me…I then moved to Pasadena with my mother, who was also physically abusive… We did not have running water, sufficient clothing, or food. Throughout this ordeal, I managed to attend school daily and strive for success.
“No matter what challenges I faced, I have persevered and made sure that my education remained a priority. My financial situation has impacted my desire for an education. I’ve always known that education is the hand that will unveil the positive and thriving life to which I was blinded, and, up until now, denied.”
Kaleef’s tutor, Mark Cermak, describes his dedicated student:
“Kaleef is very smart, but more importantly, he is extremely hardworking and driven… The sky is truly the limit for him.”
April, who succeeded in getting her grades up from D’s to A’s, will go to the Skills of Leadership camp at CSU Northridge this summer.
Sandra, April’s mother, shares her feelings about her daughter’s achievements:
“My daughter has had to cope with more difficulties than a normal little girl. This affected her academically, even when she was trying hard. Just at that time, Norah came in as her School on Wheels tutor. April noticed Norah’s willingness to help her. With April’s dedication and Norah’s help, my daughter’s grades improved and she was recognized for her accomplishments.”
Norah Lally, April’s Tutor, describes her student’s remarkable journey:
“…I have witnessed a beautiful change in April. With the help of the therapists at the shelter, some caring teachers, her mother’s loving support, and my steady encouragement, April bravely came out of her shell and has begun to excel at a level beyond anyone’s expectations.”
April tells her story in her own words in an excerpt from her scholarship essay:
“Ever since I was a little girl, and for many years, my family has had some big problems. Last year when we were in the shelter, I discovered very angry feelings in me. I had the choice of moving on or staying sad and quitting. I decided that I wanted to try to move on. Whenever I was sad, I kept thinking about what I had in me. The answer is — I can do it!”
If you would like to read more student stories, you can visit our Students of the Month page. Every month students are nominated by their tutors and receive a special award.