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.
A huge thanks to Walnut Robotics FTC Team 6325, also known as The Aluminati, who stopped by our Learning Center on Skid Row to engage our students and teach them all about robotics!
And in other Robot News…
Robotics Program for Girls at Skid Row Learning Center
This summer 15-year-old volunteer Sydney Morrow launched and ran a Robotics Program for Girls at our Skid Row Learning Center. Her project was funded by a grant from the AspireIT program and the National Center for Women’s & Information Technology. The participating students built robots in small groups and learned how to program them. Sydney plans to continue tutoring at SRLC and working with students on coding and robotics. Thank you, Sydney, for your commitment to our students!
Recently, students at H.I.S. House in Placentia were introduced to the basics of robotics and coding. Over the course of the summer, they will be learning how to build and code 8 different robots! Special thanks to tutor Grace Suh and Robolink for helping us get the kits at a discounted rate.
Kudos to our tutors at United Way in Corona for coming up with a great group project for the students they tutor! I’m so proud of all of you!
The idea was to have each student create a vision board which was divided into four parts. One part included fun facts about the student, second part included what they thought the may want to do for a career, third was their future goals and dreams and fourth was their plan of action to achieve their goals, etc.
Tutors assisted the students over the last several weeks, helping guide them as they designed their boards. Then students presented to the group their vision boards.
Many students who were once shy or unwilling to get up and speak in front of the group were now excited and wanting to share what they came up with. We witnessed so much growth with the students and were incredibly proud!
And to top it off….. We learned that one of our students who was failing many subjects improved his grades, going from F’s to B’s!
A HUGE heartfelt THANK YOU goes out to the tutors for pouring their hearts into helping these children develop a love of learning along with improved self-esteem.
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.