In late June, 40 desktop models were wiped of their data, sanitized, boxed up and sent to Children’s Bureau, a Los Angeles-area nonprofit that supports at-risk children and their parents. Another 30 laptops went to School on Wheels, which provides free tutoring and mentoring services for homeless children in six counties, including Orange County.
School on Wheels Executive Director Charles Evans said homeless students have been particularly hard hit during the pandemic, as the shift toward distance learning has removed personal connections and made technology ownership essential.
“A lot of our students are already behind as it is,” Evans said. “When they don’t have access to a teacher or to resources, it makes it a lot easier for them to fall even further behind.”
Since shelter-in-place restrictions began, School on Wheels has had to find creative ways to rebuild its erstwhile in-person tutoring model into a virtual one. The organization is actively seeking funds and hardware to accommodate students living in and learning from motels, shelters and vehicles.
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
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 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
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
Robin’s tutoring story is nothing short of inspiring! She was the last tutor to start in-person tutoring before COVID-19, and we drove around for 45 minutes before her first session trying to find parking! Robin was also my first tutor to start online. None of this has discouraged her in the least, and she goes above and beyond for her student!Jesse Pasquan, Coordinator
I made a resolution at the beginning of the year to complete 100 volunteer hours in 2020. I did some research on different tutoring organizations and programs and it was apparent School on Wheels was a great place to be. I wanted to be a part of it! I’ve been volunteering as a tutor since I was in high school — almost 15 years now — and I spent most of that time as a literacy tutor. When I moved from Virginia to Los Angeles about 3 years ago I realized this was something I missed doing. One of my favorite memories so far is when my student Ariana and I were working on ratios; at one point, Ariana suddenly blurted out “this is easy!” and it was both funny and rewarding to hear. I was so proud of her and happy that she was getting the concepts down. Volunteering as a tutor is incredibly rewarding. You get to see your student’s grades improve, and their confidence grow right along with it. Don’t second guess on whether or not to do it — sign up today, you will not regret it!
Nhi is an outstanding tutor, Tutor Coordinator, and Ambassador. She is kind, compassionate, smart, and always ready to help. Nhi has volunteered with School on Wheels in every capacity possible. She is currently tutoring two students (siblings) who simply adore her. Her students told the shelter staff that they never want a different tutor again, she is the only one they want to be with. The testimony speaks for itself!Manmeet Sodhi, Coordinator
School on Wheels is a wonderful organization to work with. I’d been interested in becoming a teacher for some time and wanted more experience working with children in an academic setting. Now I am considering becoming a pediatrician as children are such a joy to work with. Additionally, I wanted to help teach homeless students because a past college student of mine was greatly affected by their housing situation. No child should be left behind, and working with School on Wheels helps me empower them to reach new heights. My first student struggled in math, but with practice, she got through the problems faster and faster. One day, I presented her with a challenge problem and her eyes lit up. As a reward for tackling it, I gave her an extra sticker of her favorite animal, the lion. At the end of the session, she walked over and gave a sticker to her brother, who was also being tutored. She gave me hope. Tutoring these kids is such a unique experience; you will meet families of varying walks of life and get to know their stories. As a tutor, our primary goal is to provide academic assistance, but School on Wheels also trains us to help students work through their emotions and allow us to mentor them, so we are having a positive impact on their lives, often in ways not traditionally thought of as a regular tutor.
Anthony is simply an amazing tutor. He tutors three students and is able to effortlessly connect with each one of them. He is always ready with games, activities, and worksheets for his students. Anthony is a great communicator with lots of patience and a heart of gold. I admire his dedication and flexibility for his students; no matter when they need him, Anthony will show up.Manmeet Sodhi, Coordinator
I have had my own struggles with school. I know the hardships and difficulty that academics entail. I had trouble staying focused in class and have felt the anxiety and stress that comes with not knowing if you have what it takes to graduate. Without the support of those around me, I don’t know if I would have gotten to where I am today, on track to graduate from CSUF with a major in Physics. Knowing that there must be others experiencing these anxieties, I looked for tutoring jobs and came across School on Wheels. Realizing there are children who must go through the same classes I did, but with less sleep and other issues because of their living situation is what convinced me School on Wheels was the right opportunity for me to give back to my community. For me, the best moments involve breaking down any walls separating us; I get this chance with all my students, and it is a blissful moment every time. One example was a very dismissive student who started out ignoring me to play video games — and ended with him excitedly retelling and discussing a short story we read together. All my students have had this change and it always warms my heart to see them willing to meet me halfway and really get serious about their academics. It puts everything else into perspective and is the closest thing to a magical experience.
Pam has been a rockstar advocate for our students, especially in the midst of COVID. Pam has taken the extra step to get in contact with all the students at her after school group site to see how she can help and make sure they do not fall through the cracks. I cannot thank her enough for her advocacy for our students.Genesis Torres, Coordinator
When I found School on Wheels online, I was instantly drawn to it and it’s mission. After retiring from teaching elementary school for 25 years and relocating, I realized that I really missed the kids. Working with these children has been an incredible experience for me and my family this past school year. I had the pleasure of tutoring a family in Starbucks in a Target store, and also after school in a homework club, but the pandemic has wreaked havoc on families struggling with homelessness and I lost touch. Fortunately, School on Wheels was able to locate one of my families, and I was able to provide support throughout the spring despite each of their 3 motel moves. These kids are so resilient! One of my favorite memories is when one of the sisters told me that she sets up a little office in the bathroom of their motel room to work on math when her brothers get too loud. She wants to grow up to be a brain surgeon, “for kids!” In these trying times, kids need volunteer tutors more than ever to help them to continue learning. It is very stressful not having a physical classroom to go to or the necessary technology to learn remotely, while their parents are dealing with job loss and worrying about how to feed their children.
Anisha has been so dedicated since the moment she started with her student. She continuously goes above and beyond to make sure that her student is supported and celebrated. I think Anisha may get more excited for Jasmin’s accomplishments than Jasmin herself! She effortlessly supports Jasmin both academically and as a mentor. She truly exemplifies how fun learning can be and it has been a complete joy watching her and her student grow together. I feel grateful to know such a kind, intelligent, and empowering young woman.Katie Philipson, Coordinator
I started volunteering to try and help more children learn to love learning as much as I do, especially Math. I volunteer with Schools on Wheels specifically because I agree with their core values and message. One memory that stands out for me is when there was a big math test coming up. My student Jasmin and I were reviewing the content and Jasmin felt very prepared for the test when she left the session. And the next week, she told me that she got a really high score! It made me smile because I was so proud of her, but also Jasmin was very proud of herself and she felt like she did her best on the test and really understood the material. I loved seeing Jasmin believe in herself and prove to herself that she could do anything she put her mind to, especially in a subject that was challenging for her. Anyone who is even slightly thinking of volunteering, I would say go for it! It is one of the best feelings to know you are making a positive difference in someone else’s life, and it’s even better when you see that difference is being made. To watch someone blossom into a confident person in front of you is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have.
Though he’s only in 8th grade himself, Andrew has so much energy and support to give to his student Selena. He is consistent, dedicated, and motivated to help Selena do her best. His positive energy and nurturing spirit really shine through and have had a huge impact on his student. His mom, Ellen, is also an absolute joy and does everything she can to support Andrew’s tutoring.Emma Gerch, Coordinator
My mom and I were looking for volunteering opportunities for me, and when we came across the School on Wheels program, I absolutely loved the idea of tutoring those children in need. I always wanted to make an impact in our community by helping others, and I’ve discovered that there are so many ways to contribute. One wonderful experience I had with my student Selena was when she passed her post assessment. We were both extremely happy that she did so well on it and that all of her hard work finally paid off. Becoming a volunteer tutor is a big step in contributing; it’s an amazing way to be able to help our community and others in need. Creating bonds with students is a big part when tutoring, and helps both the tutor and the student grow together.
Welcome to tutoring in the time of Coronavirus. As School on Wheels tutors move online in droves, we rounded up some of our most experienced online tutors to share their stories and give advice to those transitioning.
John Reece has tutored our students both in-person and online. His unique view of the world makes him an ideal tutor for older students, and they’ve always got something positive to say after working with him. In this episode, John talks about his journey to tutoring online, living history, and teaching students to question everything, among other things. Hold onto your seats, this one’s a wild ride!
Note: the audio quality is a bit rough in this one. The interviews are recorded over wifi, which we can all agree is temperamental at times. Thanks for sticking with us!
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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.