Category: Student Success Stories

Jun 7

Student Becomes Tutor

In 2003, Tony was in 5th grade and struggling to learn a new language as well as understand his math homework. His family had moved to the United States from Vietnam.

Tony was matched with a School on Wheels tutor and remembers breaking down one day because of the stress of it all. His family had been evicted, and they were living in their car. He was struggling with school and was feeling overwhelmed. What his School on Wheels tutor said in that moment stayed with Tony and became his mantra: “It’s going to get better. You can get past this. It’s not going to be like this forever.”

Fast-forward to 2017, and Tony is about to graduate from Cal State Fullerton with a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies. His biggest challenge – learning to speak English – became his biggest achievement! With gratitude to School on Wheels, Tony is now training to become a volunteer tutor, wanting to pass on some of the positivity he received when he was 10 years old and homeless.

Jun 2

Students of the Month – June 2017

Online Tutoring:

Philemon (2nd Grade) is an energetic, creative, and hilarious student. He is full of life and loves drawing. In addition, when he gets stuck on a difficult homework problem, he can stop, focus, and solve the problem. Then he does a quick victory dance and goes on with his artistic brilliance. His goofy, upbeat behavior always makes me laugh. Phi has a one-of-a-kind personality and is a delight to tutor. Congratulations Phi on this well-deserved award!
– Nikil Grama, Philemon’s Online Tutor


Region 3:

Ashlyn (1st Grade)
I’ve been tutoring Ashlyn for almost two years and like this butterfly drawing she did for me she’s full of life. Ashlyn is bright, inquisitive and funny. She’s a born problem solver and always goes for sounding out a new word or finding the answer to a new math problem. These are great qualities to have as a student and even greater qualities to have in life. I’m Ashlyn’s tutor but I learn so much from her she could be tutoring me!
– Elizabeth Hartog, Tutor
Region 4:

Sean (9th Grade) From the start, Sean has shown a great aptitude for math. Although it is common for some kids to stray from academics, I commend Sean for coming every week with a positive attitude toward the group tutors that work in our area. Though his math is more developed, he comments that his favorite subject is history. Many of our sessions include reading aloud and summarizing historical excerpts. His favorite past times include playing Dragonball Z and watching the Dodgers and Chargers win their games!
John Park, Tutor

Sep 15

Homeless at the age of ten, former student shares his story

  • Graduation picture - alongside youngest sister Blanca, mom Bertha, and middle sister Susan.
  • Carlos with his wife Nancy and daughter, Azucena

Carlos Horacio Hernandez, a former student of School on Wheels, was plunged into homelessness at the age of ten.  A year earlier, he had arrived in the United States from Honduras with his mother, stepfather, and two sisters. His mother lost her job within six months of occupying a four bedroom house in Los Angeles. Carlos’s stepfather disappeared from their lives when things started getting tough for the family and was around only for moments at a time. With no help to pay bills, Carlos’s mother warned the children of the possibility of losing their home. After four months of not meeting payments, police officers posted a letter at their door telling them they only had two hours to evacuate. Thus, Carlos’s journey into homelessness began.  

At twelve years old, Carlos found himself in non-permanent housing situations time after time. Eventually they wound up at the Union Rescue Mission shelter which is where Carlos had his first encounter with a School on Wheels tutor.

Carlos remembered hearing about School on Wheels from others at the shelter. His mother received more information about the program and Carlos, along with his sisters, began going to sessions at The Midnight Mission. He was sixteen years old when he met his tutor John, and for Carlos, meeting with him was a safe space where he could talk and relax.

“I used tutoring as a space for me to be me, a positive environment…I would get my homework done right away, and the rest of the time, we just talked about stuff or we did something like play a quick game.”

Carlos recalls John as someone who showed genuine care for him and his sisters.  After each session, John walked with Carlos and his sisters to the train and waited with them until it arrived.

“The thing I remember the most was when we used to finish with the session. He could have gone home, could have done whatever, but he opted to walk with us.”

Even after the family left the shelter, Carlos and his sisters still attended tutoring sessions. To this day, Carlos appreciates John and has plans to reconnect with him in the near future.

Carlos and his family were placed in transitional housing after leaving the Union Rescue Misson. After Carlos witnessed a violent shooting just across the street from their living area, Carlos’s mother chose to move her family elsewhere.

The family endured a few more moves, but after approximately four years of instability, they were able to save enough money to live on their own permanently.

Carlos went on to earn his bachelor’s degree in Central American Studies and in Psychology from Cal State Northridge. He then furthered his education by earning a master’s degree in Tourism, Hospitality, and Recreation Management from the same university. Now, his plan is to get his doctorate in Education.

Apr 4

Student-tutor bond helps Chynna succeed

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“Where you are right now does not mean you will be there forever.  I was homeless and even at my lowest point my tutor pushed me in a nice way to keep up with school and focus on my future.  When I got the first acceptance letter to college I felt indebted to Katie, I don’t think I could have done it without her.” – Chynna Lloyd.

Chynna has received numerous acceptance letters for college and wants to study law.  College will be a financial burden for Chynna; she is currently applying for scholarships, including The Catherine McAuley Scholarship at School on Wheels. She agreed to share her story with us at the urging of her tutor Katie Balderas. Chynna does not want people’s pity, but her tutor explained that by telling her story she could show what she has overcome, and with other people’s help, there is so much more she can do.

Chynna was in 5th grade and her family had been homeless for a couple of years. Moving from place to place, she attended seven different schools by the time School on Wheels and her tutor Katie met her in 2009.  

Life and school had never been easy.  Chynna was embarrassed at school because she didn’t have the same things as the other kids and was teased because her clothes were old and didn’t fit. She was angry that her family couldn’t afford new clothes, but she was more upset about the fact that she couldn’t go to slumber parties or leave the Domestic Violence Shelter to play jump rope outside with her school friends who lived nearby. The shelter looked like all the other apartment complexes except that it had gates around it. Chynna never told her friends in the neighborhood why.  She was smart and got good grades but had missed a lot of school and knew she needed help catching up, especially in math.  She was determined to go to college.  

At first, Katie and Chynna bonded over music, Michael Jackson, Alicia Keys and their love of books. With the help of her School on Wheels tutor Katie, Chynna began to focus on school instead of her homelessness. They also had a shared frustration with math; over the months and years, they worked on mastering math together!

“I helped Chynna with study skills because they were  a challenge for her. Especially living in a shelter. I helped her prepare for tests and gave her tips to stay organized. I also helped her to advocate for herself at school. I attended her parent teacher conferences and asked her teachers for advice.   By asking for help at school,  I modeled  positive behavior for Chynna and she started staying after school to ask her teachers for help when she needed to.”

Seven years later,  this fearless duo has weathered personal triumphs and tribulations (the death of Chynna’s father, the birth of Katie’s first child and Chynna’s family finally finding permanent housing). Their friendship is deep:

“Chynna is a resilient, strong, and smart young woman and it’s been one of the biggest joys of my life to know her.  She was one of the first people I told when I found out I was pregnant and she was one of the first people to meet my son after he was born.”

“Katie’s heart is really pure; she is a beautiful person – inside and out. She is the type of person we need on this earth.”

“Being a School on Wheels tutor has helped me better understand the true challenges of living in poverty. I have a stronger sense of how important education is to help families break the cycle of poverty, but at the same time I now have an awareness of how poverty can make it so much harder to focus on education.”

We asked Chynna if she had any advice for other students experiencing homelessness:

“If you need help and you can get it, School on Wheels cares and will actually help you with school. Like Katie, School on Wheels finds the good in everyone.  Take all the help you can get and don’t be prideful; tutors are expensive and this program provides them for free!  I think School on Wheels is a great program.  They found me the perfect tutor. “

Chynna  graduates in June.  She has numerous college acceptances and is planning a career in law.

Katie is a Policy Analyst and has a master’s degree in public health.

Apr 3

Diana Camarillo works hard to put herself through college

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Tens of thousands of children and youth have received support from School on Wheels.  Tutoring and mentoring relationships can last for years or just for months, but we never underestimate the difference our volunteers make in the lives of the students we serve.

Diana Camarillo recently visited our booth at a volunteer recruitment fair at Mount St Mary’s University in Los Angeles and  proceeded to tell us her story:

“I was homeless for about two years, living in three different shelters.  I was matched with a tutor when I was twelve because I struggled with language arts and composition.  My old backpack was really beat up. School on Wheels gave me a really beautiful new Jansport backpack.with  all new supplies inside. We  worked together for six months before my family moved into permanent housing.

At 16 I got a part-time job  because I knew then that I wanted something better.  I decided to work hard at school to get into college and get a degree, so I could have a career rather than just a job.

With financial aid and working two jobs I now have my own apartment and am finishing my first year at Mount St. Mary’s College.”

We contacted Diana’s tutor Carol Yee who was thrilled to know how well Diana was doing seven years later.

“I am so happy for Diana and remember her very well.  She was mature for her age and just delightful to work with.  I am very proud of her and not a bit surprised with her success.”

Diana has come a long way from where she started and she has this advice:

“I would say to any student experiencing homelessness to keep working hard at school.  When I was homeless I didn’t think college was an option. I didn’t try hard at school and didn’t get great grades, so I wasn’t able to get a full scholarship to college.  Now I have to work two jobs and finance myself.  But I am proud of my achievements and grateful to organizations like School on Wheels and Puente College Prep Program for helping me understand the importance of education.”

Apr 2

Former student Tatiana Obukhova finds success after a life-altering move

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Tatiana’s mom fell in love. She moved the family from Russia to California to be with her new husband in 2009.  The relationship quickly fell apart and became abusive. Tatiana, her mom and little brother ran away and that’s how the family found themselves homeless.  Tatiana said that they stayed at so many shelters during this time that she can’t remember how many.  Tatiana barely spoke English and her mom knew even less.  

School on Wheels met Tatiana’s family when she was in ninth grade, at a shelter in Ventura County. When Disha Patel saw her student for the first time, she was dressed in a most creative way.   A painted spider web adorned her face with open fingered gloves on her hands and a big flouncy skirt. This young girl with big beautiful eyes was shy but definitely interested in this new mentor in her life. When she spoke, she stuttered slightly and had an accent.  

They started to work right away as Disha was able to tutor her ninth grade student in advanced math. Tatiana was gifted in math and art but was not really interested in school.

“The best thing about having a School on Wheels tutor during this time was that Disha kept me motivated to study and complete my school work.  I thought our situation was too complicated, with no money or home. What was the point of school? I would never get to go to college. So why even try?”  

The unlikely duo met weekly and Disha encouraged Tatiana  to keep her options open and find out what she was interested in.  She even helped Tatiana get a summer scholarship from School on Wheels for an art program with the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) . Over the years they spent time researching colleges and visiting campuses. Disha kept reinforcing the importance of college and that it was possible.

In eleventh grade two important things happened: the family found a studio apartment, a home of their own and Tatiana attended a field trip with School on Wheels to UCLA.  She fell in love with the campus. She knew this is where she wanted to be.

Tatiana Obukhova  is now in her first year of college, studying Animation at the California College of the Arts.

My mom was also an important motivator for me to go to college.  She knew we could find a way to make it happen and I am proud of her as she is in college too.

I received several college scholarships, including one from School on Wheels. With grants and a part-time job, I am able to enjoy college life.  I miss my mom and brother; college can be frustrating, but I am beginning to have fun and feel at home.

“Complicated” is a word we hear a lot from our students when they describe their lives.

Homelessness is complicated, getting to college is complicated. Learning a new language is also complicated, but we think Tatiana’s achievements are simply brilliant.  Her tutor Disha had this to say: “Tatiana is a talented, capable young woman with great potential and I am excited to see what is in store for her in the near future.  It was a pleasure to be her mentor. As much as she learned from me, I learned from her too.”