Category: Student Success Stories

Apr 2

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

tatiana success 2 tatiana success


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.”

Jun 28

School on Wheels Student accepted to University Southern California

Josephine Bailey-McLein

JosieWe met Josephine (Josie) when she was staying at the Union Rescue Mission (URM) on Skid Row in the fall of 2014. Josie graduated from University High School, Santa Monica, in June and will be heading to University Southern California to study Human Biology this fall. She received five scholarships, including one from School on Wheels, as well as a grant from USC.
Josie was a regular student at the School on Wheels Skid Row Learning Center. We caught up with her to ask her a few questions about her time as a School on Wheels student and how she coped with school while being in a homeless situation. Josie, her mom, and sister are still homeless, but they are now living in a longer term transitional living shelter and said it feels more like home.

Josie, what was it like living in the largest homeless shelter in Skid Row?

I liked that it gave me a place to sleep but it was a very stressful experience. There were lots of people there that you would not meet in everyday life who were from all walks of life.

What was your first impression of School on Wheels’ Learning Center?

When I first walked in, I noticed straight away how many kids were there, especially younger kids. It was loud and busy but warm and welcoming. All the staff and volunteer tutors were really friendly, and Miss Allison, Skid Row Learning Center (SRLC) instructor, is an amazing person who was very encouraging to me and made the center a nice environment to be in.

What difference did School on Wheels make for you during this time?

Being able to study at the SRLC was very important to me because I was able to access the internet. (No internet at the shelter) Most of my homework assignments were online so I needed to be able to get online. They were also great at providing me with school supplies.

Did you move schools a lot?

Yes, I went to three different high schools and eight schools in total. We moved to LA from Indiana but we only became homeless two years ago. I knew I always wanted to go to college. It is such a great feeling to know I am finally done with high school!

Who is your hero?

My mom is my hero because she always pushed me to do well at school. She said that, ‘Having an education was the only way you get anywhere and if I wanted to reach for something better, school was the way to do it!’

Do you have a message for any students out there going through the same experiences as you?

I would tell them not to worry about their living situation and to take advantage of the resources available, like School on Wheels, and the people they meet that are there to help them. I would also say that it is important to be around other kids the same age and try to have fun. It is easy to get stressed about your situation, but sometimes it’s good to forget and just be a kid!

Jun 20

High School Graduate Success Story

Brianna Audinett is a former student of School on Wheels. We met Brianna back in 2008 when she was chosen to represent School on Wheels students in Sweden at the World Children’s Prize for the Rights of a Child ceremony. Agnes Steven, Founder of School on Wheels, had been nominated for this award. This May Brianna graduated from high school, and we caught up with her to find out what she is up to and how School on Wheels has impacted her life.We asked Brianna these questions and here are her responses:

What was your best memory of representing School on Wheels at the prize ceremony in Sweden?

It was all wonderful. But I do remember the plane ride in particular because it was my first time on a plane. Spending time with Catherine, her husband Al, Agnes and Mr. Matt, who was one of my favorite tutors, was also wonderful. When I was in Sweden I felt so much love surrounded by people who loved me. I went back to Sweden six times as a jury member and made many great friends there. We stay in touch via Facebook and emails.

You spent a lot of time with Agnes; what is your best memory of her?

Agnes listened to me and took me seriously. She was candid and sweet and always asked, “What do you need me to do for you?’ Agnes was interested in my education and well-being, and that made me feel great. Knowing that someone, other than your mom, is invested in you is a good feeling. I am kinda indebted to Agnes because she affected me greatly, and I miss her.

What was it like to live in a homeless shelter?

The thing about living in a shelter that upset me the most was the atmosphere. It just destroyed me. Children have to grow up really fast when they are living in a shelter, and the shelter we were living in didn’t cater to children or our childhood. We had to be quiet and sit there and take it!

Do you have a message for our current students?

Yes, the one thing they must do is have hope and self-reliance. You kinda have to maintain your sanity and focus on the people that love you and uplift them too. When you do that, it reflects back… you have to have some degree of faith in yourself to pick yourself up.

Brianna is looking forward to attending college in the fall but she was unable to go to her first university choice due to financial constraints. Going to college, she says, will give her a chance of stability and she wants to be able to sustain herself academically. We know you will get there, Brianna.

Brianna and her mom have been living in permanent housing for a number of years.


May 26

Student Survey Success Story

In December 2014 we surveyed our students and their parents to find out how our one-on-one tutoring was helping them. We received some great feedback, including every one of our students reporting that tutoring has helped them in school.

Surveys were sent to students who had been tutored for at least 3 months and were currently attached to a volunteer. Students in 4th-12th grade filled out  a survey, and parents of students in all grades, K-12th, received a separate survey.

Some highlights from the student survey included:

  • 96% saw a positive change in their math, and/or ELA, and/or overall grades
  • 86% feel more confident about their reading and/or problem solving abilities
  • 100% said that they believe that their tutor have provided help that can be used at school
  • 75% try harder to do well in school
  • 83% put more time into school work and/or complete school assignments on time
  • 90% saw a positive change in their interest in the future and/or believe that SOW tutoring has been a good experience
  • 73% put more time into  their school work and/or saw a positive change in their overall grade
  • The word cloud above shows the most common words used by students to describe their tutoring experience.

Parents had great things to say about our tutoring as well. Here are some highlights of the Parent Survey:

  • 96.08% believe that their children’s motivation to understand topics in class increased
  • 90.20% believe that their children’s attitude towards school related activities has improved
  • 62.74% of parents said that their children complete homework more frequently and/or believe that their children is more confident in completing assignments on time
  • 100% of parents say that they have seen positive changes in their child as a result of having a SOW tutor
  • 90.19% of parents believe that their children feels more confident in school and/or struggles less with school assignments
  • 92.1% of parents believe that their children’s attitude towards school-related activities improved and/or their children are more confident in completing assignments on time

Here is a word cloud of the most common words used by parents to describe their child’s tutoring experience:

parent survey word cloud





Apr 13

Former Student Khadijah Williams

This scholarship was created to honor Catherine McAuley

Catherine was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1920. She left school at age 14 to help support her family. As an intelligent woman who saw how her lack of education impacted her, she was determined that the same fate would not happen to her children. Many people in the neighborhood never finished basic schooling. And no one in her family had ever gone to college until her children did.

The purpose:

The purpose of the Catherine McAuley Scholarship is to improve the life of a homeless child through education. Scholarships are available to break down any barriers that exist for homeless students in getting a quality education. This includes, but is not limited to, any level of college, trade schools, arts/music programs, educational summer programs, apprenticeships or enrichment classes.

Requirements – must be ONE of the following:

  • Currently enrolled in tutoring with the School on Wheels program,
  • Previously enrolled in tutoring with the School on Wheels program within the past 3 years,
  • Previously enrolled in tutoring more than 3 years ago but now pursuing post-secondary education

All students must have been tutored for at least 3 months and be a student 25 years or younger.

Application materials:

  • Completion of Application Form
  • Personal Statement Essay
  • Letter of recommendation from a tutor, teacher, or employer
  • Current, unofficial school transcript and/or report card


Applications are usually reviewed on a quarterly basis and are due at the end of each of the following months: February, May, August, and November. If you are applying for entrance to a specific program or class with a deadline, please give the scholarship committee at least 3 weeks to make a decision. Submitting an application does not guarantee you will receive a scholarship. Decisions are based on multiple factors, including the strength of the application, and how the money will be used.

Please address and mail application with all the required materials to:

School on Wheels, Inc.
Catherine McAuley Scholarship
600 E. 7th Street, Ste 109
Los Angeles, CA 90021

Or email to: Scholarship Committee Leader, Lisette Gaeta, at lgaeta [a]

Contribute to the Scholarship Fund:

You may contribute the the Scholarship fund through our Donation page. Choose the Catherine McAuley Scholarship from the drop-down menu.

“Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself.” – John Dewey