Category: Our Volunteers

Oct 31

A rough start leads to a happy pumpkin

My student, seven year old Nick, has been doing great in school! When I first met him, he didn’t seem to enjoy school very much. He definitely didn’t like seeing me once a week. He didn’t want to talk to me, he didn’t want tutoring, and he basically had a bad attitude every time he would see me. His behavior was not great, to say the least. His mom would thank me often for having so much patience with him.

I have been tutoring him for about seven or eight months now. Every time he sees me now, he gets so excited! He seems to enjoy school very much! He loves math, and he’s always so excited to show me how much he has learned! He’s such a bright kid, and I’m so happy I get to tutor him once a week. I’ve seen him progress academically, emotionally, and behaviorally. I’m so proud of him!

Most of all, I am so grateful that School on Wheels has given me the opportunity to be a light in the path of a young soul who just needs a little bit of guidance in the right direction. Nick is still so young and has his whole life ahead of him! I hope and pray that I will make even the slightest impact on his life to help him succeed in the future. Nick has so much academic potential! I’m very excited to see him succeed step by step. I have posted his latest masterpiece, a minion pumpkin!

Alexis Chavez
School on Wheels Tutor

Aug 1

A Field Trip Surprise

Volunteer Spotlight

We would like to thank our Star Donor and Volunteer Shobana Ranganathan and her family for their generous donation to School on Wheels. This Spring, Shobana contacted us with an exciting idea – to celebrate her husband’s 40th birthday by sponsoring a field trip for our students. Recently, Shobana, her husband Shankar, and their two children accompanied more than twenty School on Wheels students to the Santa Barbara Zoo! The children enjoyed an amazing day. They met all sorts of animals, fed giraffes, and had a pizza picnic. Thank you, Shobana, for your wonderful idea and happy birthday, Shankar. We are so thankful you chose to share your special day with School on Wheels children!

Oct 1

Generations Connected

 

Our Generations Connected initiative, sponsored by a generous grant from the Eisner Foundation, focuses on matching students with older adult volunteers for one-on-one tutoring. These intergenerational matches are an integral part of our program, and they are equally beneficial for students and volunteers. Tutors with more life experience inspire and connect with students and learn from them too.

School on Wheels provides ongoing support for our older volunteers. We also offer quarterly regional meet-ups and special volunteer opportunities for those who want to give more time.

And… tutors who are 50+ stay 50% longer tutoring a School on Wheels student!

Read more about our amazing volunteers here.

Partners:

Aug 21

Our Tutor is a Superhero!

Nancy, Lyann and Shelene

Lyann’s mom, Shelene, heard about School on Wheels from the shelter they were staying at four years ago, when Lyann was just 8. We caught up with them a couple of weeks ago to find out how they are all doing.

“It’s not just homework that Nancy helps Lyann with, but life,” said Shelene. “She confides in Nancy and tells her what’s going on at school rather than me. She tells Nancy her problems and struggles–and she has a lot. She has been through two different surgeries and struggles with hearing and reading.

Nancy is like family now. She has become a friend/mentor/big sister to Lyann. Sometimes I am so exhausted and busy, and Nancy is my superhero backup! She takes time out of her life to be here every week. She rides her bike in the LA heat to get here, and she goes above and beyond as a tutor. She turns up religiously every week for my child! What can I do to express how thankful I am? As a mom, it makes you feel good to have someone there for your child. Nancy is not a pushover, though; she knows when it’s time to work and when it’s time to play! There are no words to express my gratitude for Nancy. If School on Wheels didn’t exist, we wouldn’t have Nancy in our life. She is the perfect tutor, and I know your other tutors must be just as nice because they are doing this for free, not because they are being told to but because they want to help kids in our community. It takes a village to raise kids, and I want to thank School on Wheels for being there for me and my family.”

Nancy Dobbs Owen is a professional dancer and became a volunteer tutor with School on Wheels in 2013.

“I’m not sure how great a tutor I am. I am really more of a big sister. I turn up every week and make sure to be on time. I think being reliable has been a big help to the family and especially for my student’s mom, Shelene. I love Lyann’s mom. She is active in the kids’ school and has raised four beautiful children who are polite, kind and respectful. I have such huge respect for her. Lyann is going into 6th grade, but she has a number of learning disabilities. She had a stroke/seizure when she was 6, and this left her with partial hearing. She has trouble reading; she sees words upside down and back to front. Her vocabulary is amazing, though, and she uses words like ‘astounding’ and ‘inspirational’! She does get frustrated with school and can give up on herself quickly. That said, she loves math and science and is curious about the world and the way it works. I work with her teachers and let them know that they have backup. I am now Lyann’s emergency contact at school. The whole family is very important to me. They have become my family, my people. I am grounded with Lyann.

I always advocate for School on Wheels and try to get my friends involved, but emphasize that if you’re gonna do it, do it! If you bond with a student, you have to treat your relationship with respect. If you’re not willing to go there, do something else. When you are working with kids, they need someone that does not judge them. They need to know they are safe and that you are there to answer their questions, be their advocate: be truthful, loving, demanding, but always kind.

The day after the 2016 election we had a session. I didn’t know how politically aware Lyann was, and I learned that day that she is very aware of the world and what is going on in it. It was the hardest tutoring session we’ve had. Lyann was upset. Her mom is from Belize, and Lyann didn’t want her mom sent away by THAT MAN. She said he didn’t like people that looked like her, that the country would become meaner, that the ‘girl was smarter.’ She is a very old soul and worries about her family. She wants to protect people and be a good person. She cares. I tried to alleviate her fears, but that was my hardest tutoring session to date.”

 

Aug 7

From a Tutor to a Mentor

Sunny and Katy at her high school graduation, and Katy with her Presidential Service Award

Katy Michaelis met Sunny in 2012 when she was in 8th grade. In December 2015, Sunny moved into the foster care system and was placed with a foster family. It took a little bit of time, but with School on Wheels’ help, Katy got back in touch with Sunny and they started meeting weekly at a coffee shop.
“Over the years our relationship changed from tutoring to mentoring. We mostly focused on math, but when Sunny got to AP Chemistry in her junior year, I was just there to encourage and cheerlead! It felt like she didn’t like me at first, but after meeting for so many years we developed a relationship, and sometimes there were days when we just talked rather than tutored.”

Sunny graduated in June from high school and has a full ride to Cal State Fullerton through Guardian Scholars – a program that is committed to supporting ambitious, college-bound students exiting the foster care system. Both School on Wheels and her tutor Katy are very proud of her achievements and Katy said she is inspired by Sunny’s determination to succeed.

Katy and Sunny talked about college for a long time, and it was always in Sunny’s mindset that she was going, but she never knew for sure. When we asked Katy what she thought her contribution had been to Sunny’s success, she said that she likes to think at a minimum that she kept Sunny focused on college. They talked a lot about what college was going to be like, and Katy wrote a letter of recommendation for Sunny’s scholarship request. She also turned up week after week, and the stability and consistency of their tutoring time was a contributing factor. Sunny received help from a lot of different organizations, including School on Wheels, which provided her with backpacks and school supplies from 8th grade onwards, as well as a scholarship for books for high school.

“Tutoring was something that my mom signed me up for,” Sunny said. “I didn’t want to do it at first. It was kinda scary to be doing homework with a stranger. But after my initial hesitation, it soon became part of my routine, and meeting Katy every week was something stable in my life. Sometimes I became so overwhelmed with tests and homework, but she was there to ground me. I had a vague idea who School on Wheels was – support for kids whose demographic was homelessness. But Katy really helped me when I transitioned into the foster care system because I felt like she was a neutral person. The second I saw her, I could tell her everything: about my anxiety, about my new foster family, my mom, about anything. She always stayed neutral and positive. She helped to guide me on what to say and how to say it. It felt good that she was invested in me and helped to rationalize my thoughts.

Tutor Katy is having a baby and is due in a few weeks. Sunny is so excited and has watched Katy’s bump grow with delight and is counting down the days to meeting her new friend. She is also anxious about starting college in August. “I am still trying to get my head around the fact that I am actually going to college and gauge how I feel about it!

We asked Sunny what she would say to other kids in a similar situation, and she said this:

“Kids that live in shelters, motels, and group foster homes need to take advantage of all the programs out there to help them, especially with school, like School on Wheels. Ok, so it’s just tutoring, but it becomes so much more that that. I have met a friend for life, and she has become the most positive influence in my life.”

Jul 12

Tutoring Teen Makes an Impact

Recent middle school graduate Zarina Yunis, age (almost!) 14, discusses her experiences tutoring with School on Wheels.

Middle and high school students are often looking for opportunities to volunteer and earn service hours. I highly recommend tutoring for School on Wheels. School on Wheels is a non-profit organization that helps support the educational needs of homeless students in Southern California. Tutor coordinators find volunteers to tutor homeless children living in motels, domestic violence shelters, and even kids who live on the streets. Tutoring for School on Wheels enables volunteers to utilize their academic skills while also helping other students achieve their potential.

I discovered School on Wheels when my mother became a tutor with them three years ago. She would tutor at our local library, and my brother and I would do our homework at a nearby table. I would often notice her students struggling with the math concepts they were learning in school. I had just learned some of these concepts myself, so I offered to help explain some of the concepts. I could relate well to these students because we were similar in age, and it was easy for me to guide them. That was when I found myself to have a knack for tutoring, so when I turned 12, I decided that I wanted to become a tutor myself. I filled out the online application, submitted my references, and participated in both the online and in-person trainings. Within a couple weeks, the regional coordinator had a student for me, and I was ready for my first tutoring session.  

Because I wasn’t yet 16, I participated with my mother in a family tutoring session. We were each assigned our own student. For those who aren’t tutoring with their parents, a parent or guardian only needs to be on the premises. Our first students were twins, so my mother and I each tutored one. Every Wednesday after school, my mother would drive me to our local library, and we would spend an hour helping the twins with their homework and areas where they were struggling. After several sessions I could see a significant improvement in my student’s math and reading abilities. Another student I had was struggling in math and needed help with double digit multiplication and long division. I approached it several different ways, but finally made her a “cheat sheet” that listed the actions for her to follow step-by-step along with explanations. She would use this sheet to walk her through each problem. Because she had a specialized educational plan that allowed for modifications, her teacher allowed her to use the guide when she was taking her test. She did very well on the test, and this made me feel proud of her and good about myself for helping her. I enjoy watching my students learn and grow after receiving guidance from me. It is gratifying to help students in need in any way I can.

This summer, I started group tutoring. Every Wednesday, I go to an elementary school to tutor a group of students who have signed up for the program. These students work on either an online math program or phonics program. While they work, the tutors move from student to student to see how they can help. In this method of tutoring, students are taught to be independent but have access to help when they need it. In contrast to the one-on-one tutoring experience, sometimes tutors are managing multiple students. It can be challenging at times, but it develops important skills that will help me in all aspects in my life.

In order to be able to teach a concept well, you have to know it well yourself. Tutoring enhances your own academic knowledge while helping others learn. Tutors use their creativity to demonstrate concepts in ways that deepen their student’s understanding. Tutoring for School on Wheels allows the opportunity to have a positive impact on the education of vulnerable populations. It has been a rewarding experience for me, and I highly recommend others to dedicate their time and get involved.