Category: Student Success Stories

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 7

How Tutoring Impacted This Mom and Her Two Daughters

“When I saw your booth at the event I was attending for work; I had to come over and say ‘Hi’ and ‘Thank you!’ I was homeless with my two daughters in 2008 and School on Wheels was one of the first agencies that provided us with support and helped us get back on our feet.” Valerie has three teaching credentials and is now an associate with the government helping rehabilitate serious offenders back into society. She knows what it’s like to be ‘down and out’ (her words) even if her clients and boss don’t know that she used to be homeless. Valerie said that School on Wheels helped her during a very tough time. She had left her husband after he became violent because of mental illness and was ‘couch surfing’ – moving from place to place with her two young girls. School on Wheels provided them with books and school supplies, and they met their tutors weekly at a local coffee shop.

“You don’t realize how much organizations like yours change lives,” said Valerie.

“Access to resources that come around and assist families in such dire straights really helps you to keep going. Knowing that you are cared about, having one-on-one personal touch and that continuation of care, is what helped me and my girls get out of a rut and move forward. Having gone through what we did as a family and getting the help that we needed, I can’t believe we are where we are today! My youngest daughter is almost 18 and getting ready to start college in the fall, and my eldest daughter is 25 and running her own business.”

Jun 7

Student Becomes Tutor

In 2003, Tony was in 5th grade and struggling to learn a new language as well as understand his math homework. His family had moved to the United States from Vietnam.

Tony was matched with a School on Wheels tutor and remembers breaking down one day because of the stress of it all. His family had been evicted, and they were living in their car. He was struggling with school and was feeling overwhelmed. What his School on Wheels tutor said in that moment stayed with Tony and became his mantra: “It’s going to get better. You can get past this. It’s not going to be like this forever.”

Fast-forward to 2017, and Tony is about to graduate from Cal State Fullerton with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies. His biggest challenge – learning to speak English – became his biggest achievement! With gratitude to School on Wheels, Tony is now training to become a volunteer tutor, wanting to pass on some of the positivity he received when he was 10 years old and homeless.

Jun 2

Students of the Month – June 2017

Online Tutoring:

Philemon (2nd Grade) is an energetic, creative, and hilarious student. He is full of life and loves drawing. In addition, when he gets stuck on a difficult homework problem, he can stop, focus, and solve the problem. Then he does a quick victory dance and goes on with his artistic brilliance. His goofy, upbeat behavior always makes me laugh. Phi has a one-of-a-kind personality and is a delight to tutor. Congratulations Phi on this well-deserved award!
– Nikil Grama, Philemon’s Online Tutor

 

Region 3:

Ashlyn (1st Grade)
I’ve been tutoring Ashlyn for almost two years and like this butterfly drawing she did for me she’s full of life. Ashlyn is bright, inquisitive and funny. She’s a born problem solver and always goes for sounding out a new word or finding the answer to a new math problem. These are great qualities to have as a student and even greater qualities to have in life. I’m Ashlyn’s tutor but I learn so much from her she could be tutoring me!
– Elizabeth Hartog, Tutor
Region 4:

Sean (9th Grade) From the start, Sean has shown a great aptitude for math. Although it is common for some kids to stray from academics, I commend Sean for coming every week with a positive attitude toward the group tutors that work in our area. Though his math is more developed, he comments that his favorite subject is history. Many of our sessions include reading aloud and summarizing historical excerpts. His favorite past times include playing Dragonball Z and watching the Dodgers and Chargers win their games!
John Park, Tutor

Sep 15

Homeless at the age of ten, former student shares his story

  • Graduation picture - alongside youngest sister Blanca, mom Bertha, and middle sister Susan.
  • Carlos with his wife Nancy and daughter, Azucena

Carlos Horacio Hernandez, a former student of School on Wheels, was plunged into homelessness at the age of ten.  A year earlier, he had arrived in the United States from Honduras with his mother, stepfather, and two sisters. His mother lost her job within six months of occupying a four bedroom house in Los Angeles. Carlos’s stepfather disappeared from their lives when things started getting tough for the family and was around only for moments at a time. With no help to pay bills, Carlos’s mother warned the children of the possibility of losing their home. After four months of not meeting payments, police officers posted a letter at their door telling them they only had two hours to evacuate. Thus, Carlos’s journey into homelessness began.  

At twelve years old, Carlos found himself in non-permanent housing situations time after time. Eventually they wound up at the Union Rescue Mission shelter which is where Carlos had his first encounter with a School on Wheels tutor.

Carlos remembered hearing about School on Wheels from others at the shelter. His mother received more information about the program and Carlos, along with his sisters, began going to sessions at The Midnight Mission. He was sixteen years old when he met his tutor John, and for Carlos, meeting with him was a safe space where he could talk and relax.

“I used tutoring as a space for me to be me, a positive environment…I would get my homework done right away, and the rest of the time, we just talked about stuff or we did something like play a quick game.”

Carlos recalls John as someone who showed genuine care for him and his sisters.  After each session, John walked with Carlos and his sisters to the train and waited with them until it arrived.

“The thing I remember the most was when we used to finish with the session. He could have gone home, could have done whatever, but he opted to walk with us.”

Even after the family left the shelter, Carlos and his sisters still attended tutoring sessions. To this day, Carlos appreciates John and has plans to reconnect with him in the near future.

Carlos and his family were placed in transitional housing after leaving the Union Rescue Misson. After Carlos witnessed a violent shooting just across the street from their living area, Carlos’s mother chose to move her family elsewhere.

The family endured a few more moves, but after approximately four years of instability, they were able to save enough money to live on their own permanently.

Carlos went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in Central American Studies and in Psychology from Cal State Northridge. He then furthered his education by earning a master’s degree in Tourism, Hospitality, and Recreation Management from the same university. Now, his plan is to get his doctorate in Education.