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.”