Author: Amanda Carr

Jan 23

DIY Girls Use Their STEM Skills For Good

Written by Zarina Yunis


Startled by the alarming increase in homelessness in the past year, 12 Latina girls from San Fernando High School have taken it upon themselves to search for ways to help the homeless. These students are part of a program called DIY Girls, which “empowers girls to be confident makers and creators of technology,” according to the DIY (Do It Yourself) Girls’ website.

On a daily basis, these girls witness homelessness on the streets. They wanted to help the homeless families; however, donating money was not an option for their own low-income families. Despite their inability to contribute money, the girls weren’t about to let this obstacle prevent them from helping those who are less fortunate.

“With all the already existing programs in place to help end homelessness, we felt as if something more needed to be done to provide temporary relief to those who are displaced,” Paola Valtierra said in an email interview. Valtierra is a senior at San Fernando High School, and this will be her second year in the DIY Girls program.

Motivated to help the people in their community, the DIY girls got to work. They came up with the idea to create a solar-powered tent that could also function as a backpack. This one item could efficiently serve multiple needs and conserve space. The team of girls met frequently to work on the solar-powered tent, and a year later, they finished designing their prototype.

At times, the competition in the STEM field was intimidating for young Latina women. Evelyn Gomez, the executive director for DIY girls, recalls her experience at UCLA, getting her master’s degree in aerospace engineering. “I was often the only girl in the class and definitely the only Latina in the class. It felt like kind of imposter syndrome,” Gomez says, describing a feeling of chronic self-doubt even in the midst of evident success.

Nonetheless, the girls were determined to make a difference, regardless of their gender or race.  They have not only made a positive impact on their community, but they have been role models for many other girls and have inspired them to pursue their passions. “Remember that there will always be obstacles in life but push through them because the outcome will be worth it,” Valtierra said.

Jan 16

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 1/16/2018

For this month’s Ask A Tutor post, some of our tutors share their tutoring resolutions for the upcoming year. What are yours?

I tutor exclusively at shelters where homeless families stay for a few months. In the past I have focused almost completely on the students. However, they will only see me for a few months, and what they need is encouragement and help from their parents over the long term. So this year I am going to try to focus some of my attention on the parents and impart to them the important of consistently having their kid(s) do their homework and providing them with some resources to help them do that. Also, to consistently interact with their kids to teach them life skills and that there is nothing wrong with getting wrong answers, for each time is a chance to learn something new.–Richard Bennett

My 2018 tutoring resolution is to be consistent with my weekly tutoring sessions at Comunidad Cesar Chavez and not miss any sessions when the students are at school. If I do have to miss a session, I want to keep it to a minimum. I know the students I tutor look forward to our weekly sessions, and they always need help with their homework. Being consistent as a tutor will definitely help them close their academic gaps! –Natalie Platon

My 2018 resolution would be to use more resources such as Khan Academy and Teach My Monster to read to make sure my student gets to her reading grade level! I know that with the resources and my drive we will accomplish it!–Riley Hennessey

Thank you to all of our tutors for making 2017 an amazing year at School on Wheels. Here’s to an even better 2018!

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

Dec 5

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 12/5/2017

Question: “I had a conversation with my student recently about the holidays. She wanted to know all about my traditions and I told her about having my son and daughter-in-law and their new baby coming to visit for the first time, and how we like to stay at home and just be with family. I think my student felt a little bad afterwards thinking about her own situation. Now I’m concerned about what I should say/not say in the future and I was wondering if anyone had guidance about how to avoid these topics if your student asks.”

Thanks for sending in this question; it can be difficult to negotiate the tutor/mentor relationship around topics of home and personal life during the holidays. I think many tutors have been in a similar situation at some point, so don’t feel too badly about it. If your student asks a question like this, you don’t want to dismiss them or not answer, and it can be easy to overshare and not think about the context of their lives. Now that you’ve had this experience, I’m sure you will be more prepared in the future.

Some general rules: keep any comments brief and nonspecific. Avoid potentially triggering references regarding homes and family members. Keep in mind the context of your student’s living arrangements–i.e., are they with one or both parents? Are they in a group home with little contact with their families? Is one of their parents incarcerated? Are they living in a domestic violence shelter? Do they have any siblings who are incarcerated or living in foster care? All of these situations call for particular types of discretion.

However, you can still celebrate the season by discussing relatively neutral topics like your favorite holiday treats, songs and films. Last, let your student lead. Let them bring up the topics they are comfortable with, and never ask them how they plan to spend their holidays unless they share first. Remember, simply listening can be wonderfully supportive without the risk of bringing up a tender subject.

Amanda Carr joined School on Wheels in early 2015. As engagement specialist at School on Wheels, she is dedicated to providing volunteers with resources to help them succeed.

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 24

Ask a Tutor Tuesday – 10/24/2017

Question: “My student doesn’t want to do anything but homework. I try to bring in other things like books or worksheets but he doesn’t put in any effort even though he is behind in his reading skills. He is in fifth grade.”

Thanks for this question; I think it’s a relatively common behavior for students to resist what they see as ‘extra’ work when they have homework to do instead, especially as they get older. I would suggest making the connection for your student about why this work is important for him to do. Since he is in fifth grade, he is getting to be mature enough to recognize where he might need improvement with certain skills.

Engage him in a conversation about what he wants to work on and be sure to give him choices, so he feels he has some say in the matter. This will, in turn, give him a sense of ownership and might strengthen his dedication. You might start a conversation with: “I know you have homework, and we will prioritize that during our sessions, but I am also here to help you strengthen skills and become a more fluent reader. What things could work on together in addition to homework that would help you in school?” Then, let him answer and see if you can agree on a schedule; maybe 30-40 minutes on homework and 20 minutes on skill-building activities. Over time, you can adjust as needed.

Last, make sure the extra materials you bring in are interesting to him. Some students are reluctant to do worksheets but eager to read a book about a subject they enjoy. Try to incorporate student interests whenever possible. Perhaps using a digital learning tool like Khan Academy might be beneficial. Also, it is possible that some of the materials you have presented are too advanced given his skill level. He may be resisting to avoid embarrassment over acknowledging what he doesn’t know. You could do an assessment with him to determine appropriate grade level materials. Also helpful: admitting when you don’t know something and modelling how to find out the answer. If you can show your student how to tackle the unknown as a fun learning challenge, rather than as something to dread, it will help develop his grit and determination, two important qualities for success in school.

Good luck!

Amanda Carr joined School on Wheels in early 2015. As engagement specialist at School on Wheels, she is dedicated to providing volunteers with resources to help them succeed.

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 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.


Sep 12

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 9/12/17

“My student is staying back a grade and the rest of his friends are moving on to high school. He doesn’t want to do his work and thinks it’s pointless because he is going to fail anyway. How can I get him motivated to work during sessions?”

As a teenager myself, I can empathize with this student.  Having to repeat a grade and being separated from your friends can be a blow to one’s confidence and cause levels of self esteem to drop. However, this doesn’t mean that a student should stop striving to make the most of his/her educational experience. Choose an appropriate time to sit down with your student and talk to him about his future. Remind him that his decisions can affect the course of his education. Choosing not take school seriously may cause him to be unqualified for future classes he will be interested in taking and even potential job opportunities.  

If your student is still discouraged because he will be separated from his friends, remind him that he can still hang out with them during lunchtime or outside of school. He will also make new friends in his classes, and this experience may open the doors to friendships that wouldn’t have been made otherwise.  

About the tutor: Zarina Yunis is in 9th grade and has been tutoring with School on Wheels since February 2016.

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