Why/When/Where did you start working with volunteers?
Volunteers are the heart and soul of School on Wheels. School on Wheels volunteers work throughout Southern California to remove the barriers that stand between homeless children and their education. Our tutoring program stands at the center of our work: our volunteers come from all backgrounds and professions to teach, mentor, and assist the educational life of a homeless child. Once they have been through their online orientation and our additional training (designed to maximize the impact of their time with the children), volunteers are carefully matched with a homeless child with whom they meet at least once per week. This one-on-one time provides the highest impact of all our work; it constitutes the core of our focus. Last year, these amazing volunteers provided more than 95,000 hours of focused educational support to 3,129 homeless children. Approximately 300 of these students met their tutors at our Skid Row Learning Center, some 2,800 more had their tutors come to where they live in a service area that, while concentrated in Los Angeles County, spans more than 2,500 square miles.
What do you enjoy most about working with volunteers?
Volunteer tutors are positive role models who provide consistency and educational assistance to a homeless child through weekly one-on-one tutoring. School on Wheels is a volunteer based organization that seeks out committed people who are passionate about social justice and equality for all. A person engaged in volunteering with School on Wheels will benefits from increased self-confidence in their power as an individual to influence change and inspire others. Our volunteers act as a bridge between organizations and the communities that we serve and can inspire change in behavior and attitude in a wider group. They encourage the collective responsibility that enables solid outcomes, such as stability and consistency for the homeless students that we serve.
How has VolunteerMatch helped you to recruit volunteers?
It takes an enormous amount of work to attract, train, manage and retain more than 1,800 tutors and supervise more than 95,000 volunteer hours over the course of a year! Volunteer Match gave us an opportunity to have continuous recruiting of new volunteers throughout Southern California, while allowing us the time to focus our efforts on volunteer management, retention and support.
School on Wheels began in 1993 when Agnes Stevens, a recent retiree who had spent 30 years of her life as a schoolteacher, read a book that changed her life. The book was about homeless families in the U.S. Agnes was shocked to learn that hundreds of thousands of children were homeless (a figure that has since surged to 1.6 million) and that many of them did not attend school. She learned that there were many other barriers that stood between these children and their education and that they needed a wide range of specialized services to remove those barriers – they needed help getting back into school, they needed help in catching up on the subjects they missed, they needed help accessing uniforms and supplies. Unfortunately, because of their circumstances, homeless children often have no one in their lives who can help them access these services (at a time when a family’s focus is on basic needs like shelter and food, it can be difficult to pay attention to things that don’t seem to ensure survival – like a child’s education and future). Agnes began teaching homeless children in a park in Santa Monica, encouraging them to stay in school and keep up with their grades and school activities – and recruiting others to join her.
Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish Calendar. We thought it would be fitting to give special thanks to all our donors, supporters, volunteers, staff, and friends that observe this special day.
Every year we receive thousands of backpacks and school supplies that are sorted and filled by congregations throughout Southern California. Many temples, day schools and social action committees organize fundraising events for School on Wheels and the homeless children that we serve or offer their time and talents as volunteers for School on Wheels.
This day is the most solemn of the year for Jewish people; yet there is an undertone of joy that suffuses it, a joy that revels in the spirituality of the day. We are so thankful and filled with joy that we can consider the following among our wonderful donors and friends:
Temple Judea Heschel Day School
Congregation Shir Amir The Haupt Group
Kehillat Israel Early Childhood Center
Temple Isaiah Preschool Congregation Tikvat Jacob
Burbank Temple Emanu El
Temple Ramat Zion
Temple Etz Chaim
Temple Beth Hillel
Congregation B’nai B’nai
Temple Isaiah (Golden Sun Kids)
Hehillay Israel (Early Childhood Center)
Question: My question is about student behavior and if you frequently come across destructive behavior or behavior that shows students don’t want to be there. How do you deal with that, especially with the older kids?
Great question. There are definitely times when students, especially older students, might appear uninterested in tutoring. Actual physically destructive behavior is very uncommon. The best thing to do with an unengaged student is to find out what they want to learn. This way, they are helping to lead the tutoring session rather than being just a passive participant. Students who are engaged are also much less likely to act out.
First, simply ask them what they want to learn. My student wanted to learn cursive even though Common Core says no. We worked on it together, and now she has very nice handwriting. She also wanted to learn about elephants, so we wrote to the elephant rescue in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Writing topics can be anything. Think outside the box and bring interesting lessons to your sessions. For example, teach your student to count in Chinese or another language. We all like to feel smart and learn something most people do not know. If your student says everything at school is boring, that is just because they are not getting to the good stuff in the subject. For example, no one ever said ‘foot-binding’ is boring. Take them out of their comfort zone. From foot-binding it is not a far stretch to teach them about the Silk Road. You might also try trivia to set an interesting tone for the session, e.g. ” What very fat American president got stuck in a bathtub in the White House?”
Last, if you would like tips on tutoring older students or students in a group home, School on Wheels has some great resources in their workshops, for example, this one on Tackling Teens. The most important thing you can do is build a bond with your student, no matter their age, so that they trust and respect you from the beginning.
Hope this helped.
About the tutor: Pat Bayha has been tutoring with School on Wheels for over a year, and also tutors at Tuba City Boarding School on the Navajo Reservation. She is a former teacher with the Montebello Unified School District and has many years of experience teaching in inner city high schools, including advanced placement students and bilingual learners.
Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature?
Email askatutor [at] schoolonwheels.org or use the #AskATutor hashtag on any of our social media sites.
(Note: there is an echo for the first few minutes, but the audio is clear following this)
Curious about using technology in your tutoring but aren’t sure where to start? In this workshop, School on Wheels digital learning staff shows you how to integrate technology into your tutoring sessions to enhance your student’s learning experience. First, get started with one of the easiest ways to help your student by using our list of 20+ apps, which target specific skill areas by grade and subject. Next, learn how to use our adaptive learning program to track your student’s progress, find personalized worksheets to use during your tutoring sessions, and improve your student’s academic performance by a whole grade level. Finally, learn about online tutoring and how you can utilize it to connect with your student wherever you are, so that your schedule or location never gets in the way of helping your student.
Our very own Program Director, Matt Raab, was featured on The Nonprofit Ready Podcast to talk about his experiences working with homeless children and the work of our organization. To read a recap of the interview, click here! You can listen to the full interview below: