Learn about the education rights of foster youth and youth experiencing homelessness, and how to advocate for these rights during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in light of nationwide school closures.
About the Presenter: Jill Rowland is the Education Program Director at the Alliance for Children’s Rights. Jill is an expert in every area of education impacting foster youth, including early intervention, special education, general education, school discipline, and interrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. Jill has grown the Alliance’s Education Program in response to client needs: from pioneering legal representation for early intervention services to addressing the unique trauma-related education needs of foster youth. Her approach led to the creation of the Foster Youth Education Toolkit and its Court Companion, the training of thousands of school district and foster/probation system personnel (including social workers, probation officers, attorneys, and judges), and multiple school districts adopting improved foster youth policies. Jill is passionate about providing foster and probation youth with an equitable education so they can succeed in life. She earned her JD at UCLA School of Law, specializing in Critical Race Studies. She majored in Communications and Sociology at UCSB.
Guest post by School on Wheels Ambassador Victor Maldonado
There are enough children without homes in Los Angeles to fill Dodger Stadium. Yet, when we think of homelessness, children aren’t who we typically imagine. With over 65,000 students without homes in Los Angeles County alone, why does child homelessness go so grossly unnoticed? The answer is simple: out of sight, out of mind. These are children who are living in shelters, motels, group foster homes, vehicles, and on the streets. The common thread that connects these children is a lack of consistent education.
I am proud to volunteer with an organization that bridges these gaps in education, giving children experiencing homelessness a fighting chance at a stable life—School on Wheels. Their approach may seem modest: tutor a child for one hour per week. However, the impact on that child’s life is incalculable—it provides these children with the structure and consistency they need. That hour reiterates to them that they aren’t forgotten, that they do matter, and that they can change their circumstances.
And once a child believes in themselves, the hope and optimism they carry is truly inspirational. In January 2018 a student of mine was struck in the crossfire of a drive-by. In the weeks following, I recall trying to be sympathetic to his condition by telling him we could just play games until he felt better. Knowing he had the SATs coming up, he responded, “Games won’t get me into college. We’ll work on math sections.” To contextualize things, this was a student who, not even a year prior, would constantly vocalize that he might as well “pick out a box to live in now” because he felt he had no chance of attending college. It was at that precise moment that I realized how much of an impact that hour a week can have on the self-esteem of a child in need.
School on Wheels is the only non-profit organization in Southern California that focuses on the education of children experiencing homelessness. As such, its’ success, as well as the success of the children it serves, is directly related to its number of volunteers. Sadly, that number is often limited by people’s misconceptions on whether they’re “qualified” to volunteer. In reality, the only obstacle is a person’s willingness to volunteer.
Regardless of your age, background or level of education, your mere presence in a child’s life can be transformative. They will never forget that someone cared enough to show up once a week during the most turbulent time of their lives. Get started today.
NBC4 and Telemundo 52 Los Angeles have launched the return of Supporting Our Schools donation drive from July 11-19. The stations are teaming up with Ralphs and Food 4 Less to provide homeless students in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura Counties with essential school supplies they need before school starts in the fall.
The public is invited to make a $1 or more donation at check-out when shopping at their local Ralphs and Food 4 Less supermarket – visit Ralphs.comand Food4Less.com to find a location near you. All proceeds will go to support School on Wheels!
Thousands of families experience homelessness on any given night in America, leaving many children stricken by the grief of instability and unpredictability. There is a saying in Skid Row, “homeless but not hopeless.” But where does your hope come from if you’re the mother of four young, energetic children crammed in a motel room suitable for one or two people? How do you survive days when your kids go to bed hungry? Where does your hope come from when you’re an 8-year-old child whose only concept of home includes a revolving door?
I wish we lived in an America where homelessness didn’t exist; where kids could go to school without worrying about where they will sleep at night or if they will have enough food; where kids wouldn’t take on the burdens of adulthood. An America where kids could be kids – laughing, running, jumping, learning – the way they were meant to be.
So what can we do? We can start by speaking up, advocating for change, and accepting nothing less. Our friends need us, and we must deliver.
School on Wheels students who attend our after-school learning center were treated to a surprise visit from Mayor Garcetti yesterday
Mayor Eric Garcetti visited School on Wheels’ Skid Row Learning Center (600 E 7th Street, Los Angeles) to find out more about the center. The children knew that someone from the city was visiting and had prepared questions in advance but did not know that it was their mayor who would be the VIP visitor!
Questions from students to the mayor… How do we stop trash going into the ocean? Where do people that are on the street go when there is an earthquake? What are sidewalks so[sic] rumboled? How can we stop graffiti? Why do people have guns? And why do people live on the streets? When asked by a student “Why are shelters used instead of homes,” the mayor said, “We want shelters to be a place where people go in an emergency, not where you grow up.”
Sadly for the students at School on Wheels, many are growing up in shelters. The mayor offered hope by saying that they were building extra housing and that homelessness was his priority, but he noted these things take time.
The mayor also talked to the children about libraries, parks, water and the 2028 Olympic games. He told the students that all sports for kids would be free in the city and that they could be the next Olympians.
After a tour of the center, the mayor was interviewed by local media and was then whisked away for his next appointment.
“The kids, staff and volunteers at the center were thrilled to have met the mayor, “ said Catherine Meek, Executive Director. “Our students are really smart and they kept him honest with the questions they asked him!”