Katherine Dang, 21, is hoping to help narrow the learning gap by providing tutoring services to students experiencing homelessness in Orange County. Dang, who is from Irvine and attends UC Santa Barbara, started a university chapter of the nonprofit School on Wheels during the last spring quarter.
“A lot of the kids that we work with have experienced a lot of trauma and a lot of movement in their lives,” said Sinéad Chilton, chief development and marketing officer with School on Wheels. “They might have lived in several places, they might have missed school because of that. And typically, they’re behind their peers when it comes to academics.”
“Katherine is just a testament to the willingness of our volunteers to create more advocacy and awareness around students experiencing homelessness,” said Charles Evans, executive director of School on Wheels. “Homeless students are often invisible. Anytime you hear homelessness being talked about, children experiencing homelessness are often left out, which just perpetuates the cycle of homelessness.”
Chilton said the nonprofit currently serves about 1,400 students, including more than 120 in Orange County. They are hoping to serve 2,000 by the end of the year. Read more…
Nhi is the silver lining of the cloud for her students. She is humble, kind, polite, compassionate, and incredibly intelligent. All her students look up to her and many have mentioned they do not want any other tutor. The grace, fun, innovation, creativity and substance Nhi brings to a tutoring session is something her students look forward to every week. Nhi has contributed to School on Wheels in every possible way throughout 2020, before and after: as a tutor, mentor, tutor coordinator, and ambassador.
-Manmeet Sodhi, Volunteer Support Coordinator
I used to tutor through my college to provide free services for peers. One semester, I noticed one student who had difficulty in the class and provided some resources they look into for help. They disclosed to me that they were experiencing homelessness and therefore had limited access to resources since they had to work outside of class to support themselves. After listening to their story, I took it upon myself to pool together any free resources on campus and online that would help the student even after hours. The student started participating more during the lectures and would continuously attend my tutoring sessions afterwards. Seeing them grow instilled in me the resolve to always try to help someone in need. Then one day, they stopped coming. It was only later that I found out this student had dropped out of college altogether because they couldn’t afford to attend. After losing this student, I also came to terms with the fact that I needed to do more. And so, I decided to volunteer with School on Wheels to tutor and better understand how we can reach out to students early on to give them more structured support through an unstable time in their life. I have since treasured my experiences with School On Wheels and all the efforts each person in our organization has made to make a difference.
One of the most rewarding aspects of tutoring for me has been the moment a student finds something that excites them or they enjoy. For example, a recent student of mine had been a bit distant because they were unsure of what they wanted to do in life. When the first few sessions going through English or Math didn’t click with them, I started bringing in different subjects such as science and art. They were a bit more interested in art and we bonded over how to draw 3D shapes. It was something that interested them, but it didn’t challenge them. Then I started integrating computer science lessons as puzzles such as using Scratch and the Google Doodle coding game. The moment she hit a wall in the game, she started trying different combinations of answers to try to work through the problem. It was the first time she was so persistent on problem-solving in the sessions and I could tell she liked the challenge. I felt this moment, this shift, in her attitude towards learning something new after having previously been disinterested, was the most rewarding part of tutoring — helping spark the desire to learn and problem solve in a student.
One memorable experience with another one of my students again involved seeing that spark. This student had previously avoided tutoring due to pressure from other children in their group home. It was difficult getting them to be engaged and they would leave without notice sometimes. So when the staff members told me they would make sure the student attended the upcoming session, I knew I had to make it count. I remembered that my student often doodled in his notebook and wanted to listen to music during the sessions. He was very artistic, so I figured we could work on figurative language by creating a rap album. I pulled examples from some of the most popular songs and had him identify similar things in other songs. I then asked him to make his own rap and afterward, he was able to figure out that he naturally incorporated epithets, metaphors, and similes on his own. Then we cooled down by designing the cover art for his album. That was the first time he sat through the entire tutoring session with me, and he kept the album cover and song he wrote. I know that I haven’t significantly changed his situation or his life, but I do think that he found something he cared about and a way to translate it for people to see. I think that was one of the memorable experiences I’ve had with a student.
Manmeet has been an amazing coordinator who will show you the ropes, make sure you are heard, and will always value your input. School on Wheels benefits not only the students and families, but also the staff, volunteers, and you. It has been one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve ever had. It isn’t easy, for sure, but when you get to the end of the tunnel with a student, you know that you both put in the work to get there together.
I decided to nominate Chris because of the effort he has put forth for his student, Karla. In the short time I have worked with Chris, I have seen the impact he has had on his student. She started out failing her courses and is now excelling because of his help. Their match is an inspiration and I wanted to recognize Chris for that hard work.
-Aeriell Woodhams, Volunteer Support Coordinator
All of my prior volunteer work (20+ years) had involved my kids’ schools or activities (coaching sports, being on the PTO board) and as they got older, I wanted to shift my volunteer work to give back in the community, especially to those in need. My first assignment with School on Wheels (SOW) was in group tutoring at a winter emergency shelter in Santa Ana, which was an interesting way to break in! When the shelter closed, I became a Tutor Coordinator (TC) and helped start up the first SOW after school program in OC at Washington Elementary School. Then, I helped start up tutoring at the new Homeaid Family Care Center in Orange. After that, I helped start the onsite tutoring program at California Lodge Suites, where I shifted to 1:1 tutoring instead of group. That is when I was paired with my current student, Karla, and we have been together ever since. I’m in my 5th year at SOW and I’ve also had the opportunity to record a webinar on group tutoring tips, help deliver advanced trainings for tutors, organize backpack and supply drives, hold first-sessions with tutors, and speak about SOW at corporate events. Everything I have done for SOW over the years has been extremely rewarding!
I’ve been tutoring Karla since she was in 8th grade and math has always been challenging, as it’s not one of her favorite subjects. But we have worked hard on getting this turned around. Karla has a very positive attitude and has moved her grades up, consistently earning A’s and B’s on quizzes and tests!
When I was at Washington Elementary, I had a special student who was nervous about tutoring and we had a very rough start. I worked closely with him over several weeks, won his confidence. Soon he was running from class to after-school tutoring, wanting to be the first one there. When he would solve a problem on his own, we would high five and I would say “Anthony, you got this”. Then he started saying “Mr. Chris, I got this”. It still makes me smile thinking about it.
This is the most rewarding and meaningful time you could spend with a child in need – to be able to help them, be there for them – it’s the best thing you could do! And, you get to work with and learn from some amazing staff members and volunteers. Please join us!
Lynn isn’t just an exemplary tutor and a dedicated volunteer, she is a kind and caring person who inspires me with her enthusiasm and willingness to take on any challenge. She advocates for her students, creates a warm and collaborative relationship with the families, and always answers an immediate “yes” whenever I need her assistance. She has been invaluable in our transition to online tutoring and I feel extremely lucky to have her as a School on Wheels volunteer!
-Chris Walsh, Regional Coordinator
My neighbor, who is a CASA, introduced me to School on Wheels. I had been fully retired from an education career for about a year and there was something definitely missing in my life. I thought by being a part of a student’s life and supporting them in their education just might fill that gap in my life!
I enjoy ALL aspects of tutoring, but especially the one-on-one non-academic time I have with my student. We begin with catching up with what’s been going on in our lives, which includes checking in with our household pets, before we hit the academics! We conclude the session with an art activity. Personalizing the session makes it such a special time for my student and me!
I think the most memorable experience I had was when at the conclusion of a session, my present student had a big smile with bright eyes and asked me….”see you tomorrow?”. Another, just as memorable, was when my student’s teacher communicated with me that she has seen more confidence in my student since I began working with her.
This is what I share with EVERYONE….this volunteer experience has done as much for me as it does for my student …it’s immeasurable!
Marlene carries such immense care and dedication for her students and their family. She is constantly looking for new, innovative ways to engage her students and fosters a safe and caring environment to help her students flourish. She is encouraging and motivating and that has really exemplified through her sessions.
-Maxine Faustino, Volunteer Support Coordinator
After retiring as an elementary school special education teacher at a public school, I wanted to share my skills and experience as a teacher with children who didn’t have all the advantages of the students who I taught at a wealthy school. When I read about School on Wheels, my heart literally did palpitations. I have been aware of the increase in families who are experiencing homelessness and food insecurity (especially in Los Angeles) and learning about School on Wheels gave me an opportunity to be able to reach out to students in need. This was just what I was looking for in my retirement.
The most rewarding aspect of my tutoring has been hearing the joy in the voices of my students as they proudly read new material and seeing a huge smile on their faces. It’s been great to see them closing the gap in their learning as they acquire new skills.
A memorable experience was when I’ve said, “OK……we are finished for today…….I’ll see you next week” and my students said, “Oh no……we are done already? Can’t we do a little bit more?”
Another memorable experience is that I was invited to attend my students’ mom’s graduation from a college program. It meant so much to me to be included in this wonderful event for this family and to know what an incredible role model this mom is for her kids.
I would like anyone who is considering tutoring for School on Wheels to know that as much as you will feel good in knowing you are helping others, your students will touch your life in immeasurable ways. Back in the days when we were able to see kids in person instead of on Zoom, I volunteered at the Rescue Mission in Reseda. Whenever I left that environment, I thought about how lucky the kids were to be in a place filled with safety, love, and joy.
Alexis is so dedicated to our students! She goes above and beyond to make sure her student is getting the attention he deserves. In addition to supporting her high school student in applying for our scholarship program, she also coordinated a toy drive for the family shelter she tutored in-person before COVID. Thank you, Alexis, for all that you do at School on Wheels!
-Jesse Pasquan, Volunteer Support Coordinator
I was looking for an opportunity to volunteer and School on Wheels seemed like a great organization in my area. I love when a student asks good questions or when you can see a concept click. Helping my student apply for the School on Wheels Scholarship was fun because we were able to talk about what he wants for his future and he had some great ideas about what to write on his application. Volunteering is an easy and rewarding way to make a difference in a kid’s life and their future!
Mara is a hugely dedicated member of the School on Wheels family. She transitioned from in-person to online tutoring when her student Elizabeth moved, way back in 2019. Her experience and expertise with online tutoring allowed her to provide crucial insight to other volunteers when the pandemic started. With her student Elizabeth, Mara makes every session engaging and fun, using a combination of our literacy resources, educational videos, and a virtual motivational “sticker chart.” School on Wheels is lucky to have such a dedicated, creative, and caring volunteer as part of our team.
-Emma Gerch, Digital Learning Specialist
During college, I mentored and tutored high school students struggling with algebra, helping them develop a growth mindset and consider careers in the STEM field. I wanted to continue tutoring students after college and I found the right opportunity through School on Wheels. When I heard about School on Wheels’ mission to provide tutoring and support to students experiencing homelessness, I knew I wanted to be involved.
During my time as a tutor, I’ve learned how important consistency, patience, and optimism are when teaching. I’ve really enjoyed the trust and rapport I’ve been able to establish with my student. Being able to be a consistent face and cheerleader for her success has been really special. I enjoy seeing my student’s aha moments when a concept clicks and watching her confidence grow with difficult problems. I’ve also enjoyed being able to encourage her passion for art and space exploration during our free time in sessions. It’s rewarding seeing my student become more motivated and eager to learn. We use a star chart to track her progress each session and with each lesson we complete she earns a star. My favorite thing is hearing my student brag to her mom about how many stars she’s earned.
I would say if you are considering volunteering, go for it. The support you can give can really make a difference in a child’s life. The bonds you form with a student and their family are invaluable and I couldn’t have asked for a better student or family to be placed with.
Tee has consistently dedicated himself to his student and School on Wheels. With 6 years of tutoring experience, he has motivated and guided his students to reach their educational goals. We admire his tenacity, and we’re extremely grateful to call him a School on Wheels tutor.
–Carlie Whittaker, Student Support Coordinator
I was inspired to volunteer as a School on Wheels tutor due to my belief that education provides a low-risk, high yield opportunity to be successful regardless of background and past history.
A memorable experience with my student was when he texted me out of the blue that he would like to be a medical doctor. It is remarkably interesting and relevant to note that I am also a medical student but I have always made sure to not directly influence his career path. If anything, I imagined I would have discouraged him as I shared with him some of my academic struggles and the amount of commitment I had devoted to achieving my goals. In fact, we had established that he would not seek a career related to science, technology, and mathematics due to his lack of interest in these subjects even though he academically excelled in them. However, I think he has been highly influenced by the pandemic both from a scientific and health/social disparity aspect as his family was affected. And of course, it is possible that I might have had a tiny bit of influence too!
Working as a volunteer tutor is a great way to leave a positive footprint in the life of a young person. For some students, these tutoring sessions are a rare opportunity to connect with a role model figure and it is quite evident to me that this can have a profound effect on their development, both in academics and their personal lives.
I could not have picked a more well-deserving tutor for the Volunteer of the Year award. Rosemary has gone above and beyond tutoring one-on-one with two siblings. She works with each student twice a week and has formed an incredible bond with both of them. She has faced her fair share of challenges but never gave up, just kept pushing forward. Rosemary continues to make significant academic breakthroughs with her kids and they cannot get enough of her. Both kids just absolutely adore her. It has been such a delight getting to know Rosemary and I am so fortunate to have her volunteering in my region. She has a heart of gold!
-Kristina Rakosh, Regional Coordinator
Once I heard so many of the amazing stories from current and past students of School on Wheels I knew that I wanted to be a part of this great organization. I have always been grateful for the wonderful education that our children had, and wanted to be a hands on part of making a difference in other children’s learning experiences as well.
I began my journey as a tutor at the Skid Row Learning Center which I truly enjoyed. Once Covid -19 changed all of our lives, I was determined to pivot to one-on-one tutoring, which I discovered was an awesome experience. The most rewarding part of tutoring is getting to know students in a more personal way and to see the pride they have with each new accomplishment.
I work with two children, a sister and brother ages 7 and 5. I think the best memories have been when I am able to connect with them despite doing so from Zoom. During our sessions, once our “school work” is completed, we dance together and send each other pictures and I love that these meetings bring some fun to our tutoring time!
For those of you who are contemplating becoming a tutor, I would say that despite all of the challenges that will be a part of your experience, that the joy of connecting with your students will impact you in ways you will always treasure. You will make such a difference in their lives!
Acacia is a highly skilled tutor and is exceptionally dedicated to helping her students become life-long learners. She practices a pedagogy of love and puts in the work to build deep and transformative relationships with her students. Acacia’s compassion, thoughtfulness, and dedication are absolutely outstanding, and it is my honor to nominate her as a School On Wheels volunteer of the year for the West Los Angeles region.
-Alex Toutant, Volunteer Support Coordinator
I’ve always been looking for a meaningful volunteering opportunity to be directly involved in an organization’s mission. During my time at UCLA, I discovered that I really enjoy teaching, so I set out to find a way to give back to the education system that gave me so much. When I found School on Wheels online, I was hopeful that it would be what I’ve been looking for. It is nearly impossible to find volunteering where you feel needed, and there isn’t a huge barrier to entry. It has been such a blessing to have been a volunteer tutor for the past 3 years, and I hope I never stop.
The most rewarding aspects of tutoring include the freedom to explore students’ interests, be their strength when they feel weak, offer dependability, and bring them closer to realizing their purpose through education. In school, there’s often little to no time to ask students one-on-one about how they feel about school, what their interests are, and reveal the importance and wonder behind seemingly mundane assignments.
One of the most memorable experiences I’ve had as a tutor happened a few weeks ago when my student (a 5-year-old) told me that she loved coming to tutoring because it was fun. She has such a sweet spirit, and it made me so happy to hear that I am making a life-long positive impact in her life. In six months, I’ve seen her go from knowing the alphabet to asking if we can learn to spell “friends,” a much more advanced word than her current level.
My advice to new volunteers would be to listen to your student actively. Outside of tutoring, they may rarely get the impression that what they have to say is important. Love is spelled T-I-M-E. We aren’t regular tutors whose main goals are to reach certain academic markers. We are role models and dependable guides who journey with our students toward loving learning and using it to live out their passions.
I nominated Meng as a volunteer of the year for her amazing leadership in working with 2 students and meeting as many times as possible with her students, even up to twice per week. Meng engages students to participate in various School on Wheels programs, competitions, and scholarships. She has been a great advocate helping make sure a Spanish-speaking family gains the correct information and stays engaged. Meng has also helped in communication with tutors who are working with siblings and taken on a leadership role to help the students’ families!
-Genesis Torres, Volunteer Support Coordinator
I am grateful for my life and want to give back to this country that has taken me and my family in. I volunteered to be a School on Wheels tutor for young children because I love nurturing curious minds.
I was thrilled to learn that my student had studied his division notes that I made him take when he kept saying he doesn’t understand. He started our tutoring session as the tutor and taught me division from his notes. He was so proud to show me that he had grasped a difficult concept, and I was happy to see him happy.
The saying of “the more we give the more we get” rings true for me. The joy of helping a child is priceless. It’s an exercise in opening our hearts, appreciating the little things in life and growing as a person. It has been good for my mind, body and soul to know that I can make a difference in positive ways.
From the day Phillip joined School on Wheels, his passion, and enthusiasm for helping our students really stood out. Shortly after he was matched with his first student, asked if he could tutor more students (he now tutors four students). I’ve had the pleasure of watching Phillip tutor and his students adore him, they really look up to him. Not only do his students adore him, but the parents of his students really appreciate him and feel like he’s a part of their family. In addition to tutoring, Phillip has been incredibly active in other ways, including creating a Volunteer Peer group for which tutors in the IE come together, meet, exchange ideas and support one another. Phillip is always looking for ways to enhance what he does with his students as well as ways to make a deeper impact overall with School on Wheels. Phillip is one of the kindest human beings I know with a heart of gold. His passion for his students, their parents and the community is huge. I’m incredibly grateful for Phillip. He deserves this distinction so very much.
-Stephanie Swenseid, Volunteer Support Coordinator
I often met homeless families through volunteering at a food pantry and always wished there was more I can do more for them, especially the children. I was raised with a strong emphasis on education, so I believed it was my duty to leverage this background in helping displaced students reach their highest potentials. School on Wheels sounded like the perfect opportunity to pursue this interest of mine.
Being able to be a long-term resource for students has been the most rewarding aspect. Not only do I get to see my students grow both academically and emotionally over time, but I can also support them on both their good and bad days. Through all of this, I have the opportunity to grow alongside my students.
One fond memory was when Eliana, a 3rd grade student, asked me to keep being her tutor when her family found permanent housing and transitioned out of School on Wheels’ services. It meant so much that she enjoyed our sessions as much as I did, and it was a stark reminder of our tangible impact on our students.
If you are considering being a volunteer tutor, do it! It has been such a life-changing experience. You do not need any teaching experience—just the passion and desire to serve our youth—and will have the chance to grow alongside your student.
In a year fraught with uncertainty it can be challenging, yet essential, to note glimmers of hope. Hope comes when volunteers support students in their formative years. Hope comes when donors and supporters fund programs that enhance marginalized communities. Hope comes when frontline workers dedicate themselves to serving their community. We give thanks for all these glimmers of hope and we give thanks for your support—not just of School on Wheels, but of any of the thousands of organizations that are working to make our community a better place.
We want to express our deepest gratitude to our community of supporters. Your time, talents, and contributions have allowed us to match more than 2,000 amazing kids with their very own tutor. Because of you, our students got the support that they wouldn’t have received otherwise. May this act as a reminder that a little hope goes a long way. Please continue to take care of yourself and others as we embark on this season of thankfulness.
Today I’m happy to share a short video I made about an extraordinary LA artist named Angela Sanchez. Angela is the author of a children’s book series called “Scruffy and Egg”. The series is based on stories that Angela and her father would tell each other as they experienced homeless together while Angela was still in high school. Angela’s stories reach children and adults alike and place dignity and empathy at the forefront of the conversation on homelessness. I’m truly grateful to Angela for being so open with me and for allowing me to tell a small part of her story.
The way we serve our students may look a little different this year; still, our mission is the same. Watch Executive Director Charles Evans and President of the Board Josh Fein talk about 2019 and the changes 2020 has brought and read messages from our students, parents, and volunteers. Your work as a tutor, donor, cheerleader, and advocate for kids devastated by homelessness is more important now than ever. Please read about the impact you have made in our annual report,