Rev. Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray joined School on Wheels’ Board of Directors in 2008. After retiring as pastor of First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME), he was appointed as the John R. Tansey Chair of Christian Ethics in the School of Religion at the University of Southern California.
In his 90 years, Rev. Murray has witnessed and lived through much of America’s civil unrest. Murray has been a tireless advocate for the educational, civil and human rights of our most marginalized members, particularly those of the African American community.
Before the pandemic, we had already tutored more than 1,600 students experiencing homelessness with 1,250 volunteer tutors this year alone. We were well on our way to achieving—or even exceeding—our goal of tutoring 3,700 students. Our new improved literacy and digital learning programs were in full swing, fostering a love of reading and narrowing the digital divide for our students. Then, suddenly, normal life ceased and our reality transformed. Many people adapted. Meanwhile, our most vulnerable children face increased challenges in receiving a quality education. We at School on Wheels are determined more than ever to ensure our students get the help that they desperately need and deserve.
Today, we are focused on making sure that our students have access to a tutor, the internet, and technology so that they too can get online and access their classes. We are collaborating with our shelter partners, school districts, charter schools and other nonprofit partners to maximize our impact.
With your continued support, here is our most recent progress:
- Conducted outreach to shelters, families and our volunteer tutors to gather information on their greatest needs and issues.
- Strategized with LAUSD, LAHSA, LACOE and Mayor Garcetti’s team on ways to best support our students.
- Partnered with several organizations and other nonprofits to distribute over 3,000 books, school supplies, Chromebooks, Wi-fi hotspots, tablets, kindles, hygiene kits, activity and science kits, and educational games and toys.
- Re-trained our active volunteer base to tutor online and revamped our advanced training to address the new social and emotional needs caused by the pandemic.
- Currently, more than 350 volunteer tutors—with the support of our staff—are regularly meeting with their students. That number continues to increase as more and more students are referred to our program.
We recognize that this pandemic will impact the world long-term, and while our lives will hopefully return to some semblance of normalcy, we expect online tutoring to become increasingly important for our students’ success over time. Our resource center is open for deliveries, but our staff is still working from home. As summer approaches, we need your support now more than ever, so that our kids don’t fall behind even further and have fun activities (albeit online) to keep them learning all summer long.
As we continue to monitor developments regarding COVID-19, we wanted to update you regarding School on Wheels and the steps we are taking to support our students, volunteers, partners, and team. The situation is still very fluid, continually evolving, and impacting our communities in many ways.
As we always do, we are keeping children experiencing homelessness front and center. While we have suspended all on-site tutoring, closed our Skid Row Learning Center, and canceled all planned events, our staff is working remotely and still in close contact with families, partners, and volunteers to ensure that our students are supported. We recognize that our ability to work from home is a privilege and we are so grateful to all those who have no choice but to go to work so that the rest of us are taken care of.
Our major priority at the moment is to identify and fulfill the most critical needs of our students, their families, and the shelter staff who are on the front lines. This is what we have done in the past two weeks:
- Conducted outreach to over 250 shelters and school districts we work with to identify their major needs; surveyed them as to internet access and hardware available for students.
- Created a webpage dedicated to essential resources for parents and community partners and created an online wishlist to ship activity kits directly to shelters.
- Contacted all active volunteer tutors and encouraged them to stay in touch with their students via phone, Facetime or other communication methods.
- Trained our staff members to administer remote tutoring so they can, in turn, train our volunteers.
- Expanded our use of important alternatives to in-person tutoring, such as online tutoring and digital classrooms.
- Provided books, school supplies, laptops, tablets, and worksheets to shelters so that our students can continue to learn.
- Created a digital classroom at a large shelter in Skid Row for the many children isolated there.
Here’s how you can support School on Wheels students during these difficult times:
Please continue to support our work with a financial contribution.
Provide activity kits for students in shelters.
Follow us on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) where we share inspiring stories, learning resources, important petitions, and news related to the issues our students and families are facing.
Dedicated resources for families from our community partners.
Visit our partners at VolunteerMatch.org or California Volunteers.
Let’s work together and do what we can to stay safe during this crisis, making sure our most vulnerable kids–those without a home–have the support they need to grow up healthy and get the education they need to survive and thrive. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
At School on Wheels, our top priority is always the safety and well-being of our students, volunteers, staff, partners, and communities.
Effective immediately, we have suspended all in-person tutoring services to our students and have canceled all events. We will put all new applications and student/volunteer matches on hold. Our Skid Row Learning Center will also be closed for the time being.
For most of our students, school is their only safety net, offering food, education, physical and mental health services, caring adults, and a safe place to be during the day. Schools and after school programs offer stability and safety. We will help our students by offering alternatives to in-person tutoring during this time. We are working directly with our active tutors to implement this as quickly as possible.
If you would like to help and are not already in our existing volunteer tutor community the best thing you can do at this time to support our work is to donate funds for us to purchase tablets, laptops, school supplies, and books and help to raise awareness in your virtual community about the challenges our students are facing during this time. Please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for ongoing updates on our work. Starting a Facebook Fundraiser is also a great option to support our students.
We are collaborating with our staff and board, as well as external educators and other partners, to find creative ways to support our students and community during this time. We know this situation will have a huge impact on our most vulnerable populations and we are committed to our mission of serving children experiencing homelessness.
Extreme negative emotions, like fear, can have a devastating effect on a student’s ability to learn. Fear amps up threat perception and aggression. It can also subsequently make it hard for children to understand causal relationships, or to change their mind as context changes. – David Brooks
A recent article in the New York Times highlights the growing body of neuroscience knowledge that reaffirms what we have known at School on Wheels for a long time—”children learn from people they love, and that love in this context means willing the good of another, and offering active care for the whole person.”
Homeless students are more susceptible to being exposed to negative and harmful imagery than their counterparts. That imagery can have a devastating impact on a homeless student’s emotional state. Research shows that having at least one caring adult in a child’s life dramatically increases the likelihood that they will thrive and become productive citizens themselves. School on Wheels is committed to providing not only supportive academic assistance but also consistency in the form of a caring human being.
Thousands of families experience homelessness on any given night in America, leaving many children stricken by the grief of instability and unpredictability. There is a saying in Skid Row, “homeless but not hopeless.” But where does your hope come from if you’re the mother of four young, energetic children crammed in a motel room suitable for one or two people? How do you survive days when your kids go to bed hungry? Where does your hope come from when you’re an 8-year-old child whose only concept of home includes a revolving door?
A recent four-part series by Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez on child poverty, especially as it relates to education, provides a painfully clear window into the lives of these children. The short film that starts the series is especially powerful, and a must watch for anyone who wants to understand the daily stress and trauma these children face.
I wish we lived in an America where homelessness didn’t exist; where kids could go to school without worrying about where they will sleep at night or if they will have enough food; where kids wouldn’t take on the burdens of adulthood. An America where kids could be kids – laughing, running, jumping, learning – the way they were meant to be.
So what can we do? We can start by speaking up, advocating for change, and accepting nothing less. Our friends need us, and we must deliver.
To view/read the full series:
Part 1: Hidden in L.A. suburbia, wrenching poverty preys on children and destroys dreams
Part 2: For the principal with the most homeless students in L.A., the reality of poverty is personal
Part 3: Whether home is a van, a motel or a garage, L.A.’s suburban poor children learn to survive
Part 4: For children trapped in poverty, breaking free is getting harder