In 2019, we introduced Virtual Field Trips to eight tutoring locations. These sessions expose students to places and ideas that they otherwise may have never encountered, allowing us to expand their worldview despite geographic and financial barriers. We are utilizing two types of Virtual Field Trips – PORTS and Peace Corps Global Connections.
The PORTS program from California State Parks connects park rangers to students via video chat. Rangers in parks all over the state give students a virtual tour of their park, explain how State Parks protect important ecology, and even show students wildlife in real-time. So far, we’ve taken elementary students in Anaheim on a tour of Hearst Castle, learned about paleontology in the Anza-Borrego Desert with students at a South LA shelter, and strolled through the sequoias in Northern California with students at the Orange County Rescue Mission.
The Peace Corps Global Connections program connects Peace Corps volunteers around the world with students in the US via video chat or other methods. These volunteers are able to impart cultural knowledge and inform students about what the Peace Corps does. At the end of 2019, a volunteer in Guatemala spoke to high school students at a youth shelter in Glendora about how she’s improving sanitation policy at a local Guatemalan school. Shortly after, a volunteer in Cambodia spoke to students at a shelter in Long Beach about teaching Cambodian students and handling cultural differences.
Seeing our students’ minds open to all the world’s possibilities is truly a joy. We look forward to connecting more of our students to Virtual Field Trips in 2020!
Computer and internet access is increasingly becoming a requirement for success in school, according to this article from the Atlantic. 70% of American teachers assign homework that requires an internet connection, and nearly half of American students say they must do online homework daily. Common Sense Media reports that the number of teens and tweens who use computers for homework every day has more than doubled in the last four years, and that nearly a third of teachers think that not having access to a computer or internet would limit their students’ learning.
Where does this leave students whose families can’t afford computers or internet access? Research shows that 1/3 of households making below $30,000 per year lack internet access, and 17% of teens can’t complete homework due to lack of access to technology. In California, 52% of low-income households don’t have a computer that connects to the internet. In South LA, the percentage of school-age children who live in internet-connected in households fell from 76% to 71% between 2013 and 2015. These students experience the “homework gap” – they’re unable to complete assignments and fall behind in school due to circumstances out of their control.
The families we serve at School on Wheels experience extreme poverty, and can rarely afford computers. Many homeless shelters do not have internet access or computer labs. Some of our families live in vehicles. As a result, students often complete their homework on phones, or not at all.
That is why we have made it a priority to connect our students to the digital tools they need to succeed. We’ve installed 15 Digital Learning Centers at shelters and schools, where every student has access to the internet and a laptop at least once per week. We’ve given nearly 300 laptops, tablets, and other devices to students to use for schoolwork. We train our volunteer tutors to use Digital Learning programs when working with our students, including adaptive programs that help students catch up in math and reading and coding and typing programs that teach essential digital literacy skills. We’ve also partnered with local organizations like Walnut Robotics to lead STEM workshops.
We also provide technology to students for online tutoring. Our online tutors work with students remotely over audio/video chat on a variety of devices. This allows us to reach students in areas where we are not able to send in-person tutors, and provide specialized instruction to students who need extra help.
This year, Bel Air Internet generously provided free high-speed internet access to three shelters and our Skid Row Learning Center. This is huge for hundreds of our students, who would otherwise have to stay after school, go to a library, or buy something at a coffee shop just to get access to online assignments. We are excited to grow our partnership with Bel Air Internet to bridge the digital divide for our students.
There’s still a lot of work to be done to close the digital “homework gap” for students like ours. You can support a student experiencing homelessness by volunteering, donating, and spreading the word to your friends about School on Wheels.
Guest post by volunteer online tutor Sanskriti Reddy
“I don’t really like to read.” Since joining School on Wheels, I heard this statement an alarming number of times. As an avid reader, it confused me. What was the problem? I soon realized that part of the reason students don’t like to read is that they simply don’t know how to pick the right books.
That is why I created Words Changing Worlds. This website helps students discover new books through carefully selected lists, quizzes, and student-written reviews.
After all, an important part of reading is not only understanding the text but connecting with it. With Words Changing Worlds, I hope students find they can do just that.
A recent study from TNTP finds a pervasive pattern of low expectations schools that harms the most vulnerable students. The authors observed thousands of lessons in hundreds of schools, and found that majority white and high-income classrooms were more likely to have qualities that have a positive impact on student learning – strong instruction that encourages students to do most of the thinking, rather than lecturing; high expectations; grade-appropriate assignments; and deep student engagement. Having these factors in a classroom is especially impactful for students who start the year behind.
The study found that overall, students were only given grade level-appropriate work 26% of the time, meaning that even students that met expectations in school could be woefully unprepared for post-secondary education. 40% of classrooms with majority students of color never received a single grade-level assignment (compared with 10% of majority white classrooms). Classrooms with higher income students spent twice as much time on grade-appropriate work than those with lower-income students. In classrooms with majority students of color, 66% of teachers who were the same race as the majority of students had high expectations. Of teachers who were a different race from their students, 35% had high expectations. Students of color who got good grades were less likely to do well on state and AP tests than white students who got the same grades, indicating teachers in classrooms with mostly students of color had lower standards.
These findings have major implications for the students we serve. People of color are over-represented in the homeless population. According to LAHSA, 36% of people experiencing homelessness in LA County are Black or African-American, and 35% are Latino. Only 25% are white. Homeless children are also likely to attend schools in low-income areas. In addition, students experiencing homelessness are often behind their grade level – moving schools can cause a student to lose 3-6 months of learning. Our students are among those who are the most in need of the impactful factors identified by the study.
Youth experiencing homelessness need caring people to invest and believe in them. If our students are not challenged and engaged with meaningful work, they cannot achieve their full potential, and may struggle to succeed later in life. In order to break the cycle of homelessness, our students need supportive learning environments where they are encouraged and expected to do their best.