Month: October 2015

Oct 27

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 10/27/2015

This week, tutor Emile Kanhai discusses working with a high school student who was initially resistant to tutoring.

My most difficult moments as a tutor always come when working with students who have been newly enrolled in our tutoring program. I’ve learned to be patient with students and to understand that a student’s first tutoring sessions will be more about acclimating a student to tutoring then about helping them with their homework.

This summer, I spent a lot of time tutoring an older high school student who was not only new to School on Wheels, but also new to California. She was very homesick and overwhelmed by her sudden move to Los Angeles. Her anxiety and frustration manifested in her bad attitude and negative behavior. She was closed off and intensely difficult to work with. When she did engage with me, it was either through taciturn one word answers or by snapping at me angrily. Working with her was frustrating to say the least! Additionally, my background in education is from working as an Elementary School substitute teacher. Before this summer I had little to no experience working with high school students.

There’s no magical solution to working with students like this, but of all the techniques I tried, the most effective was simply showing up and being present and positive with her. For me that meant three things. First, giving my student my complete and undivided attention. Second, ignoring or brushing aside the sarcastic and negative things she said. Choosing what battles to fight is a technique that I learned as a substitute teacher. A lot of children and young adults misbehave as a way to receive negative attention, because it’s the only way they have been socialized to interact with adults. And third, paying close attention to her body language. My student was not a verbal communicator; a lot of what she “said” to me was through the way she would maintain or break eye contact or position herself. (For example, crossed arms and shaking her leg was her way of telling me she was angry or bored, relaxed with her hands on the table or fiddling with her pencil meant she was interested and receptive to learning.)

My student is a lot easier to work with now. She’s much more talkative and eager to engage with me. She showed great initiative in researching subjects that interest her (the geography of Los Angeles county) and finding effective methods of studying (creating flashcards for her American History class). She’s polite and funny, and I genuinely enjoy our time together. My student’s shift in attitude didn’t happen overnight; it was a change that gradually took place over the course of many weeks. Those were some difficult weeks for me, but as rough as they were, it helped to imagine my student’s perspective. I learned a lot from my student, but the most important thing I learned is that it’s one thing to espouse empathy, but it’s another thing to practice it.

About the tutor: Emile joined School on Wheels in 2015 as an AmeriCorps Summer VISTA before becoming the Learning Center Support. He previously worked as a LAUSD substitute Elementary School teacher and a graphic designer at Scholastic Book Fairs.

Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature?
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Oct 23

Comerica Cares – 31 Branches take part in Back to School Drive to Benefit Homeless Students

For the 2nd year in a row, Comerica Bank partnered with School on Wheels to gather backpacks and school supplies from its customers and staff.

31 branches throughout Southern California took part in the supply drive and many got creative with their donation boxes which were set up in the banking centers.

Comerica Bank promoted their back to school drive by emailing customers and handing out fliers about the event.

Their drive started on July 1 and ran through to the end of September.  On Oct 6, banking center managers and staff made the treck to Skid Row to present School on Wheels with over 6,000 backpacks, school supplies and equipment.

Lynn Fernandez, Senior Vice President – Retail Bank Administrator had this to say about their now annual event for School on Wheels:

“We appreciate all your organization does for homeless children in our region and are pleased to be able to help support your efforts.”

In addition to the thousands of donations, School on Wheels was also presented with a check from Comerica Bank which will continue to go towards supporting every student we tutor.

School on Wheels relies on the generosity of partners like Comerica to provide backpacks and school supplies to over 6,000 homeless children annually. We appreciate how you personally took on this project and advocated for our students. We know they appreciate the effort by the smile on their faces when they receive brand new backpacks and school supplies that they can call their own.

Thank you so much for your support and dedication to School on Wheels and we look forward to your drive next year.

Oct 20

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 10/20/2015

Over the next several weeks, our tutors will share some of their most challenging tutoring moments, as well as the strategies they used to overcome these obstacles. This week’s entry is from Jackie Romo, who discusses working with a student who was so far behind, he completely shut down during their sessions.

A couple of years ago, I met a student who entered school for the first time ever in third grade. By the time I met him, he was a fourth grader, and as one can imagine, incredibly behind in school. During our first session, he seemed excited to be working with me and loved the book I read aloud to him. When I took out a second book and said, “your turn,” he completely shut down. He not only refused to read, but he told me he didn’t want a tutor after all. When I offered him another book, he said all of the books were “lame.”

No matter what I tried, he refused, and the rest of the session was rough to say the least. It took me a while to get this student to do much of anything, and I felt as though I was wasting his time each time I came for tutoring. Since he was so far behind in school, however, I knew it was important that I not give up on him. Eventually I realized that I had not spent any time getting to know my student. I knew quite a bit of information about him academically, but I had no idea what his interests were. I began to compile a wide variety of books, and each session, I’d share them to learn more about his likes and dislikes. I knew I needed something to grab his interest if our sessions were going to be beneficial.

After a small amount of success, I finally hit the jackpot when I brought an encyclopedia of science books for kids that I came across at the library. It was a large hardcover book with plenty of interesting pictures and science facts. On that day, he said something that changed our sessions: “I love doing science experiments!” After that, I was set. We made a deal to work hard on reading activities, study math flashcards, then use the last fifteen minutes of each session to do a short science experiment. He was in! Each week, I’d google search an easy science experiment, and for the most part, I could get him to do any kind of work or studying in exchange for a fun experiment.

After that experience, I learned the importance of knowing my student both academically and personally. In addition to the School on Wheels ‘getting-to-know you survey, I found a more detailed survey on Each time I got a new student, I made sure to administer the survey sometime during the first formal session. In the end, when we make student interests seem valuable and important, our students are more willing to respect the work we do during our sessions.

About the tutor: Jackie Romo has been a School in Wheels tutor for nearly 9 years. Aside from tutoring, she teaches first grade in Rowland Heights and recently earned a MS in reading. She is happy to help in any way she can to make your tutoring sessions successful!

Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature?
Email askatutor [at] or use the #AskATutor hashtag on any of our social media sites.

Oct 13

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 10/13/2015

Question: Tutoring my 6 year-old student has been really challenging. His attention span is very limited, he does not like to follow instruction, and he has some behavioral issues. It is a learning process for me. Sometimes all he is willing to do is listen to me read him a book. There have also been a couple of occasions when I had to end the session early because of behavioral problems. Whenever that’s the case, I just calmly tell him that because he was choosing not to learn with me, I was going to end early, and I make him shake hands with me that the next week he will be ready and willing to learn – and the next week, he typically has a MUCH improved attitude.

He is definitely an intelligent child, but I worry that he isn’t learning as much from me as he could. Maybe you could give me some tips for guiding his attention/behavior?

-Jennifer, Region 5


Great question! In my past experiences working as a preschool assistant teacher and working in different Kindergarten classrooms, I have seen firsthand the importance of building consistency with my younger students. In my previous experiences, younger students will misbehave because they feel insecure or nervous. When students become accustomed to a schedule, they know what to expect which makes them less likely to misbehave.

First, I always inform my students at the beginning of the session what our schedule will be and what activities we will complete. A sample 1-hour session could be:

3:00-3:05 PM: Sing a song
3:05-3:20 PM: Complete one homework assignment
3:20-3:30 PM: Read a book
3:30-3:50 PM: Complete another homework assignment
3:50-4:00 PM: Color

You could even draw a schedule with pictures that shows the student the order of the activities.

Once the student gets accustomed to the schedule and his behavior improves, you can start making adjustments and become more flexible with it. A possible adjustment is switching an activity out (ex: replacing singing a song with playing a game such as ‘Simon Says’). The challenging part will be getting your student used to the schedule at first, but it will help both of you out in the long run.

Here is a useful article from Aha! Parenting that stresses the importance of building structures and routines for young students.



About the Tutor: Natalie Platon possesses seven years of experience working with K-12th grade students in different capacities and is currently finishing her multiple subjects teaching program with CSU Los Angeles. She has a deep passion for working in diverse and underserved communities and has worked in after-school programs, tutoring organizations, shelters, and schools.

Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature?
Email askatutor [at] or use the #AskATutor hashtag on any of our social media sites.

Oct 9

Nonprofit helps homeless children succeed in school


Our Marketing Director, Sinead Chilton, was interviewed for the Southern California Public Radio, KPCC, to talk briefly about the challenges homeless students face in school and how School on Wheels is supplying them with the essentials they need to succeed–from one-on-one tutoring to school supplies.

Click here to read the story or listen to the audio interview on the SCPR website!

Oct 6

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 10/5/2015

Question: I’ve been tutoring since July, and my student recently went back to school. The last two weeks, I’ve been working on homework with her during our sessions. She has a lot, and I’m wondering how I’m supposed to do other activities in addition. How do I find the right balance? She really insists on doing her homework but some of it seems too advanced.


I’m also a tutor who finds it challenging to balance time spent on homework and additional activities within a tutoring session. However, I’ve found that having a schedule of activities is helpful for me and my student because it structures our sessions in a manageable and timely manner. The schedule does not need to be too specific or rigid. What’s more important is that the schedule guides—but doesn’t limit—the tutoring session through a series of expected weekly activities. For instance, typically, my student and I work on homework for 30 minutes, then spend 20 minutes on filling in a specific academic gap, and finally have 10 minutes of free time. But of course there are times when a certain activity dominates the whole session. More often than not, this activity is homework.

Like you, I can also be really concerned when I spend too much tutoring time on homework, especially when I know that the assignment is above my student’s capacity. In this situation, I blend another activity into homework help. Typically, I blend homework time with filling in one or more academic gaps. I do this because firstly, homework can help inform us of our student’s gaps. Secondly, I’ve found that knowing my student’s achievement gaps helps me identify my student’s challenging areas within the assignment. I can use this knowledge to properly guide my student to complete the homework. If you have not done so, I recommend that you look at report cards, or administer a SOW assessment to help you identify your student’s specific gaps.

Now, if you find that your student is having way too much trouble with her homework, it might be helpful to talk to your student’s teacher so that you can receive additional assistance as well.

I hope this helps!



About the Tutor: Andrea Aguinaldo has been with School on Wheels tutor for almost a year as both a volunteer tutor and one of our AmeriCorps members. As part of SOW’s Volunteer Engagement team, she helps research volunteer resources.

Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature?
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