Aug 29

25 Years of Shrinking Educational Gaps

Originally published in Ventura Breeze

In 1993 a retired school teacher, Agnes Stevens, was so deeply moved by the number and plight of homeless students she saw that she dedicated her life to setting up a nonprofit to help. School on Wheels has been providing one-on-one stable tutoring relationships ever since.

August marks the 25th anniversary of local nonprofit School on Wheels. School on Wheels began in Santa Monica with one tutor and now operates in six counties throughout Southern California. In 2010, it opened its flagship Skid Row Learning Center and since then has opened five Digital Learning Centers a in Compton, San Fernando Valley, Boyle Heights, Venice and Chino Hills. In 2017, 2,029 volunteers spent more than 100,000 hours tutoring 3,370 homeless kids. More than 5,000 backpacks, school supplies, uniforms and bus tokens have been distributed to children in need in the past year. Their Resource Center is located in Ventura.

“When I was 16 we were homeless in Los Angeles and we spent nights sleeping on buses and trains and finally moved into a shelter in Skid Row,” said Josephine Bailey McLein. “That’s when I found School on Wheels. Their center had internet and I could do my homework somewhere I felt safe. I worked hard to get all the requirements for college, but I never told anyone at my high school I was homeless. I am now a junior at USC majoring in human biology and my mom and sister finally have an apartment. School on Wheels encouraged me to keep up with my school work and to follow my dream of going to college.”

As California’s housing shortage intensifies, the number of homeless children continues to climb. Since 2014, the number of homeless youth in California has jumped 20 percent, to more than 202,329, and accounts for nearly four percent of the overall public school population, according to the California Homeless Youth Project.

“While childhood homelessness and poverty are daunting, I truly believe that when people come together around a shared belief, change is possible,” says Catherine Meek, executive director of School on Wheels.

Today, hundreds of volunteers work one-on-one with children whose homelessness prevents them from receiving the academic stability and help they desperately need. The heart of the School on Wheels’ program is the volunteer tutors who come from all backgrounds and professions, with a shared goal – to reach out to a child, to teach, to mentor and assist in his or her educational life. The mission of School on Wheels is to enhance educational opportunities for homeless children from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Tutoring in six counties in Southern California, including Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties.

Sinead Chilton, Director, Development & Marketing School on Wheels, Inc. told the Breeze. “I met Agnes Stevens, the founder of School on Wheels at a volunteer training in Ventura in 2003. I knew straight away that I would know her for a long time and that her mission was an important one. Up until then, I didn’t realize that children were homeless in Ventura never mind the rest of America. School on Wheels has always had a presence in Ventura County and over the years has helped thousands of children in the county with backpacks, school supplies, one-on-one tutoring and mentoring. I still volunteer today and I think the mission is as important as ever.”