Author: Victor Bornia

Sep 16

Students of the Month – September 2020

Leon Jr.

Age 13

Leon is interested in deconstructing cars and reassembling them to increase their speed, specifically the Ford Mustang, Shelby Cobra, GT, and Ford Fox. Leon also loves to foster cats and host YouTube streams. Although he says he doesn’t like math, Leon is great at it! We have been working on his Algebra skills and I can see his fear slowly subsiding. By working methodically when approaching algebraic equations, he has gotten much more comfortable with seeing variables and solving for them!

Leon has taught me so much about cars! From the very first session, it became very evident that he has a strong understanding of different car models and how to reconfigure engines to increase their speed. Some of Leon’s dreams include racing a Shelby Cobra while listening to The Beach Boys or 70’s music, becoming a carpenter, and of course being a car mechanic.


Kristy Nguyen, Tutor

Miracle

Age 9

My student Miracle has had more than her share of challenges, including having to attend multiple schools, each with new kids, new teachers, and unfamiliar new programs — all without the benefit of a home as a place of refuge and comfort. When we first started working together, Miracle found reading a challenge and it was a struggle for us. Now, however, her reading skills are excellent! In addition to understanding the material, she asks questions and wants to learn more.

Miracle likes painting and doing math, and also helping other kids. Whenever she sees a little boy or girl who seems sad or might be having a problem, she goes over and asks if they’re okay and tries to make them feel better. The inspiration for the picture Miracle drew (above left) is her dream to be a doctor. She wants to take care of people, and I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen her do exactly that for other children. I know how smart and determined Miracle is, so if she wants to become a doctor, I know one day she will.


Betsy Borns, Tutor

Paola

Age 6

Paola loves ballet, makeup, nail polish, unicorns, and learning about Paris. She would love to travel and see a ballet in Paris one day.

Paola missed half of her kindergarten classes during the spring semester due to COVID and moving. On top of all the craziness, Paola is also an ESL student, so she is learning a new language! This has not been an easy time for her, but she is always excited to learn something new and wants to do well. She has reminded me about the resiliency of a child. She’s got more grit than most adults I know, and I am so proud of her. She has also taught me about the importance of silliness, especially on tough days. Laughter is our trick for a more productive tutoring session!


Leticia Ortiz, Tutor

Kieley

Age 13

Kieley is interested in writing, reading, and creating her own works of art. She also loves pumpkins, art, the sea, and animals — especially dolphins and her dogs. Kieley is also obsessed with all things Harry Potter! She is currently reading the series aloud with one of her other tutors and greatly admires the actress Emma Watson, who plays Hermione Granger in the films.

Kieley has struggled with reading in the past but has made considerable improvement through her consistent efforts. She’s a bright girl with strong opinions, and that also makes constructing paragraphs easier. Recently, Kieley finished reading the first Harry Potter book completely on her own. As she kept on progressing through the book, she began building her confidence in sounding out words and relating events of the book to her own life.

Kieley is a very sociable person and her infectious joy translates well into our sessions. For the immediate future, Kieley has told us that she is eager to “catch up” with her middle school peers in terms of her academic skills. We have no doubt she will achieve this goal because she is focused, determined, and eager to learn. Kieley has overcome so much, and she taught us that perseverance and a positive attitude are key to accomplishing previously impossible tasks. She is unfailingly positive, gracious, and grateful for the education she receives from her various tutors and family.


Suzanne Rizzolo , Tutor
Sep 16

Volunteers of the Month – Sept. 2020

Gregory Demirjian

Online

Gregory is incredibly thorough and committed in his tutoring. He has created an amazing bond with his student Ethan and does everything he can to make Ethan’s tutoring experience exceptional. Gregory is very experienced as both an in-person and online tutor with School on Wheels. We’re glad to have him as part of the School on Wheels family!


Emma Gerch, Coordinator

I first learned about School on Wheels through social media. I noticed on a friend’s Facebook profile that they volunteered as a tutor, did some research to see what the organization was all about, and was convinced.

I have been lucky in many ways to get to where I am now, so I make it part of my life to dedicate my time to those that need help in the face of obstacles. I want community outreach and volunteering to be a part of what I do for the rest of my life.

The student I tutor struggles with math, so for one of our sessions I taught him a trick that made him say, “whoa, that’s really cool actually!” I could see the light in his eye, that I had taught him something he can take with him for the rest of his life. It was extremely gratifying and I smile every time I remember that day.

Tutoring with School on Wheels is the highlight of my week. My student not only learns from me, but I have learned so much from my student. Tutoring with School on Wheels continues to be a humbling and rewarding experience.

Leticia Ortiz

Region 8

Leticia is a dedicated and caring tutor who always goes the extra mile to support her student and their family! She began tutoring her current student just after we transitioned to online tutoring. Leticia began meeting online with Paola 3 times a week to help her catch up with schoolwork and learn English. She also will frequently check in with me to find community resources that can help the family. Leticia is a wonderful example of the dedication of School on Wheels volunteers!


Chris Walsh, Coordinator

After moving for a new job I wanted to do some volunteer work in the area, and School on Wheels’ mission stood out to me. So much so that despite feeling insecure about my tutoring skills I signed up anyway, determined to be the best tutor I could be. My love of learning has brought me a lot of happiness, opportunities, and financial stability; I want this for these kids and always do what I can to encourage a love for learning.

One special memory I have is when I was tutoring a 4th grader, a girl who generally had a very serious demeanor. One day we were working on some homework and she pointed to a math problem she couldn’t understand. But when I looked, instead of her finger pointing to the problem, what I saw was a ridiculously tiny, plastic hand reaching out of her sleeve! I turned to face my very serious student and we both exploded with laughter. It was so out of character for her and that little hand was so weird… I still think back and laugh about it.

Betsy Borns

Region 7

Betsy is an amazing tutor and person. She has exhibited empathy, compassion, and kindness to not only her student, but to her student’s whole family. She makes learning fun and engaging and has developed a genuine connection with her student and her family. In addition to providing academic support, Betsy also encourages her student Miracle to be confident in herself and her abilities, so she can aspire to be and do anything that she wants!


Maxine Faustino, Coordinator

As a human being who has had the good fortune of having a family and career that I love, a stable home, and a community to live in, I believe it is my responsibility and duty to help others who haven’t had the same good fortune. I also believe that if you want your children to be compassionate and giving human beings, it’s important to model that behavior instead of just talking about it.

One of my most powerful tutoring experiences was when my student Miracle broke through her fear of failure. We had been working for many sessions on getting her to try reading and one day I could see her push her fear aside and go for it. I’ll never forget the smile on her face when she realized she was much better at it than she thought! What a beautiful experience.

I’ve spoken to many people about becoming a volunteer tutor and I always say the same thing: “It will change your life.” If you think volunteering is going to be a sacrifice, you’re wrong. Yes, it can be challenging and frustrating, but you always get much more than you give. Rather than being a sacrifice, it’s actually an honor — a gift you give yourself as well as another person. In addition to helping a student learn, you’re creating a beautiful bond of friendship that will last forever.

Kristy Nguyen

Region 9

Kristy has been working with students during the COVID-19 shutdown and has gone the extra mile to aid in all technology-related issues. She arranged tutoring sessions on different platforms, etc., and was still able to help her student get a summer incentive prize!


Genesis Torres, Coordinator

I volunteer with School on Wheels because I want to help address educational opportunity gaps faced by students with housing instability. I want to help make access to education more equitable by using my own experiences to assist the academic journeys of others.

My student Leon and I always have a great time! One of the best moments was when he helped lead me in answering his hypothetical question on what a given car would be like if he changed certain parameters. I knew absolutely nothing about cars, so this was a big deal! Leon was able to translate automobile jargon into everyday language and give me enough background so that I could arrive at an answer. Ultimately, he successfully did what great tutors do!

Aug 5

Students of the Month – August 2020

Dominic

Age 15

Dominic enjoys football, writing, history, and graphic design, and has been academically challenged by math. We have worked on it in the past, and we are continuing to work on it. He puts in a lot of effort during our sessions to really understand the material. He continually shows improvement and always asks for help or clarification when he doesn’t understand a math problem. Dominic’s biggest dream is to play college football and eventually play for the NFL. One thing that really inspires me is his curiosity and willingness to always ask questions. When he doesn’t understand something or has a question about anything, he always asks and is always looking to learn more. It is something that I admire about him, and it has pushed me to also be more curious in my day to day life. It has taught me how important it is to recognize when you are unfamiliar with something and be able to comfortably ask questions to learn more.

Jannah Jakvani, Tutor

Joselina

Age 7

Joselina loves watching Sonic the Hedgehog. He is her favorite character! She also loves to play, eat hot dogs, and her favorite subject in school is math. A big academic challenge my student has faced is reading. When I started tutoring her, she was reading below grade level. We have been working really hard on improving her reading skills and helping her feel confident and comfortable with grade-level books. Joselina loves being a kid. She still doesn’t know what she wants to do when she grows up. For now, she says she just loves to play. I learned that Joselina is a very intelligent child who just needs some help in recognizing her potential.

Ingrid Hoyos, Tutor

Sophia

Age 5

What I love about Sophia is her positive attitude. She’s constantly excited about the world and has a strong sense of exploration and curiosity. She’s mentioned her love of music and wants to be a singer one day. She also loves doodling and sketching, especially her favorite animals like lions, leopards, and cats. Sophia has taught me a lot about patience and trust. I know that in our past month or so of remote sessions, there have been technical difficulties, especially considering she cannot read a lot of the words on the website and isn’t very familiar with working a computer on her own. I also slip up sometimes and ask her to read some big words (oops!), but she is never frustrated or flustered. She lets me know her needs (for example, that I need to read words aloud to her) and if I apologize, she tells me it’s okay! Her continued active participation in the tutoring process lets me know just how committed she is to the work and how much she trusts me while we navigate sessions together.

Mel Sakurada, Tutor

Julissa

Age 5

Some of Julissa’s interests include animals, shapes, painting/coloring, reading books about animals, and playing with her two-year-old brother. Julissa’s hope for the future is being able to read to her brother. She also looks forward to being able to play with friends in the future after COVID. I have learned so much from Julissa; she has taught me to slow down and really get into the details of learning rather than just the basic building blocks. In addition, she has taught me that practice really does make perfect as I have seen her improve in just the short amount of time that we have been working together.

Liat Smener , Tutor

Nathalie

Age 7

Nathalie enjoys reading, drawing, and math and reads all kinds of books and articles on her own, often bringing them to our sessions to share and discuss. One article she read to me explained how tapirs are needed for trees to grow in the rainforest. We haven’t encountered any really big academic challenges, but poor Internet connections on some days have been a huge obstacle. Nathalie is always patient, good-natured, and resourceful. When she couldn’t hear a video I was trying to play for her on Messenger, she asked me the name of the video, did a search for it herself, and watched it in a separate window. When asked about her dreams for the future, Nathalie says she wants to explore the jungle and someday work at the zoo. One of the great qualities Nathalie brings to our sessions is her sense of fun. We might be talking about verbs or how many tens are in a given number, with Nathalie fully involved in the conversation, and I’ll glance up at her image on the screen and see that she’s put on a filter to give herself ears like a rabbit or stars for eyes or a cake full of burning candles in front of her face!

Moira Nelson , Tutor

Aug 5

Volunteers of the Month – August 2020

Liat Smener

Region 3

Liat is an incredible tutor, and has been volunteering with School On Wheels since she was in high school! Liat now attends UCLA, and in addition to volunteering as a tutor, she has been instrumental in helping us relaunch a School On Wheels at UCLA club!

Alex Toutant, Coordinator

I started volunteering to help students become motivated and hopeful of pursuing higher education than they thought possible. One experience with a student that makes me smile is when I taught the five-year-old I am tutoring how to spell the words “apple” and “lizard.” Seeing their faces light up when they finally understand something melts my heart.

Jannah Jakvani

Region 6

Jannah is an amazing and dedicated tutor. From the first day I met her, she demonstrated a very natural ability to understand and connect with her student, Dominic. Jannah is very upbeat and encouraging with her student and is always such an incredible champion for him… she’s his biggest cheerleader! Jannah’s love for helping others shines bright when she’s tutoring. I had the pleasure of sitting in on her first session and was so impressed to see how quickly she connected with her student and the two became a really great team. I’m so grateful for what she does. Jannah is a shining star indeed!

Stephanie Swenseid, Coordinator

I started volunteering with School on Wheels because education has always played a huge part in my life. I believe every student should have access to educational resources to excel in school. This is why I am pursuing a career in education. I recognize the privilege I had growing up of having access to tutoring and other educational opportunities that often require financial means that not everyone has. School on Wheels recognizes the importance of providing the educational support that a lot of students need and often are unable to receive. I love volunteering with School on Wheels because of the values it stands for and the mission it is accomplishing.

During a recent tutoring session, my student Dominic and I were discussing empathy and going over scenarios in which we would express empathy to another individual. In the scenario we were dealing with, a girl was sad about not being able to go to prom because she did not have the money to buy a ticket and a dress. Dominic’s immediate response to the scenario was to help the girl out by contributing to buying her dress and ticket. This experience stayed with me because it showed how big Dominic’s heart is and really speaks to his character and personality. As a tutor, your responsibility is to provide support to your student and help them with their school work. However, more often than not, I find myself learning something new from the student I tutor every single session.

Ingrid Hoyos

Region 5

Ingrid & her student have faced many obstacles in tutoring online since COVID began. Her resilience and continued efforts made it possible for her student to catch up with homework over the summer!

Jesse Pasquan, Coordinator

I was looking for volunteer opportunities in my community and when I came across School on Wheels, I was surprised to learn that so many children in Southern California do not have a home. I found that to be so heartbreaking and unacceptable. I started to inform myself on all of the work School on Wheels does to help break the homelessness cycle for these kids and I wanted to be a part of that. Children are the future of our world and I really do believe it is our responsibility, as members of this community, to help them forge a better future. They cannot be left behind. When I work with my student, I can see just how intelligent and perceptive she is. Her math skills are outstanding but she has a bit of trouble with reading – it is her least favorite subject.

One time, we were reading at the library during our tutoring session. The hour was up and I told her I would see her the following week to read some more. To my surprise, she didn’t put the book down! I was very happy about that because she had not shown much interest in reading before. As I was leaving, I saw that she was actually trying to read the book to her mom. That really put a smile on my face; I am a writer, so stories are super important to me. I am so hopeful that my student will discover just how magical books are and I know it’s only a matter of time before the stories she reads really start to come to life in her imagination and reading will no longer feel like hard work. Being a tutor feels so rewarding. It is remarkable when you start to see that the hour you dedicate to your student each week, as little as it seems, can actually make a big difference in their lives. They can go from feeling completely lost or uninterested in school to feeling confident and motivated to keep moving forward.

Mel Sakurada

Region 2

I knew Mel was going to be an amazing tutor the day I met them! They displayed true dedication and commitment to their student from the beginning. From working on arts and crafts to creating an additional homework packet, Mel has always gone the extra mile for their student. I can always count on Mel to be consistent and advocate for their student.

Carlie Whittaker, Coordinator

I was specifically looking for ways I could use my past experiences working as a Literacy Mentor and spending weekends with friends distributing resources to displaced communities in the Bay Area. I found a listing for School on Wheels & thought it’d be a great match, and I was absolutely right! I’ve always wanted to continue bolstering my repertoire of experience to follow a long-time dream of curating positive, self-affirming spaces and opportunities for systematically disenfranchised populations. I had this one excellent student — my first after joining School on Wheels — who had difficulty adjusting to weekly sessions because he would be tired after a full day of school.

During one session, I noticed his attention was more difficult to maintain than usual. I decided to spend less time on curricular activities and focus more time on figuring out what subjects actually piqued his interest. That session was the first time I had seen him light up. He told me about all these things he loved doing but never got around to (most of which I was entirely unfamiliar with). He loved video games, science, chemistry, space, physics, finger boarding — the list went on and on! After that session, I completely changed the way I divided up our time and prepared for our sessions. A combination of Ivan feeling heard and seen mixed with taking risks as a tutor completely revolutionized not only our tutor-student relationship but also the way I saw what tutoring could look like and how learning could be made accessible to the student’s needs.

Moira Nelson

Region 4

Moira is one of the kindest, sweetest, and most gentle souls I have ever encountered during my time at School on Wheels. Every time I talk with her about tutoring her student, she brings nothing but excitement, positivity, and enthusiasm! Moira is a breath of fresh air and I love having her as a volunteer. She and her student have a special bond and I am so happy that these two have each other.

Kristina Rakosh, Coordinator

Just a year ago, a friend of mine who knew that I had recently retired and was thinking about volunteering as a tutor invited me to a School on Wheels presentation at the Hermosa Beach Rotary Club. I had already been volunteering as a Rolling Reader at a local grammar school, and I thought tutoring with School on Wheels would be a good way to build on what for me is a great source of satisfaction. Before retirement, I worked for over 30 years as a developmental editor of college science textbooks. I am a learning junkie and love especially to explore the world through the eyes of young people who are just beginning to get acquainted with it. A picture my student Nathalie recently drew makes me smile — the sweet expression, arms reaching toward two butterflies, and the upward tilt of the feet are all perfect representations of Nathalie’s spirited, upbeat personality.

Jul 8

Students of the Month – July 2020

Ariana

Age 12

Ariana’s interests are sketching, skateboarding, and animating. Ariana’s big academic challenge was math and that is where we spend most of our time. Her hopes and dreams for the future are to be in the film industry, maybe a big time producer or a voice actor. She also wants to start a makeup/beauty line. Ariana has helped me conquer my own fears and doubts. Math is my worst and least favorite subject, so when I initially heard she needed help on math, I definitely panicked a bit! But together we took it one day at a time, and it forced me to get out of my own comfort zone. Teaching is the best way to really learn something, and I have been doing a lot of that lately. I hope to have my own kids one day, sooner than later, so I have Ariana to thank for giving me a glimpse into what to expect!

This artwork (at left) is something Ariana created.

Robin Vanneman, Tutor

Crystal

Age 17

During the group sessions I lead, it is sometimes hard to keep students on track and make sure they are progressing. For Crystal though, this weekly task isn’t as hard because she is serious about learning. She is very serious, even avid, about doing classwork, and you can tell she wants to take it seriously and be taken seriously. Currently, her dream is to graduate from high school this summer and attend Los Angeles City College in the fall. She also wants to get a job and move out on her own. She wants to start building her career before she gets married and has kids. Professionally, she wants to become an agent at the DEA or a registered nurse. Crystal loves cosmetology and is extremely good at doing makeup, and in her free time, she wants to attend cosmetology school to obtain a license so she can do side work. 

Charles Fogel, Tutor

Jasmin

Age 14

Jasmin loves Spanish poetry, speech, soccer, and cheerleading. During our time together, I’ve seen her become more confident in math and math-related skills. As Jasmin moves on to high school, one goal is to make the high school soccer team and become successful in her classes, especially math. Her long term goal is to become a Forensic Pathologist and work in Juárez, Mexico. She would like to make a big difference in the world through her career. I have learned a lot about perseverance and confidence from Jasmin. If she does not fully understand a topic, she does not hesitate to ask for clarification and if she gets a question incorrect the first time, Jasmin will go back and try until she gets it correct. Jasmin puts so much effort into producing the highest quality of work she can.

Anisha Singh, Tutor

Selena

Age 11

My student, Selena, loves the subject of language arts and loves art. She loves to draw, color, and make all kinds of crafts and projects. A big challenge that both Selena and I had to face was her struggle with math. She specifically had trouble with fractions, but now she is completely comfortable with them and the subject overall. Selena hopes to be successful and wishes to meet some of her idols that she has loved for a long time. I have learned a lot from Selena about never giving up. Although there were many tough times where some subjects seemed difficult, Selena never gave up and worked hard in order to understand in the end.

Andrew Chung , Tutor