Before the pandemic, we had already tutored more than 1,600 students experiencing homelessness with 1,250 volunteer tutors this year alone. We were well on our way to achieving—or even exceeding—our goal of tutoring 3,700 students. Our new improved literacy and digital learning programs were in full swing, fostering a love of reading and narrowing the digital divide for our students. Then, suddenly, normal life ceased and our reality transformed. Many people adapted. Meanwhile, our most vulnerable children face increased challenges in receiving a quality education. We at School on Wheels are determined more than ever to ensure our students get the help that they desperately need and deserve.
Today, we are focused on making sure that our students have access to a tutor, the internet, and technology so that they too can get online and access their classes. We are collaborating with our shelter partners, school districts, charter schools and other nonprofit partners to maximize our impact.
With your continued support, here is our most recent progress:
Conducted outreach to shelters, families and our volunteer tutors to gather information on their greatest needs and issues.
Strategized with LAUSD, LAHSA, LACOE and Mayor Garcetti’s team on ways to best support our students.
Partnered with several organizations and other nonprofits to distribute over 3,000 books, school supplies, Chromebooks, Wi-fi hotspots, tablets, kindles, hygiene kits, activity and science kits, and educational games and toys.
Re-trained our active volunteer base to tutor online and revamped our advanced training to address the new social and emotional needs caused by the pandemic.
Currently, more than 350 volunteer tutors—with the support of our staff—are regularly meeting with their students. That number continues to increase as more and more students are referred to our program.
We recognize that this pandemic will impact the world long-term, and while our lives will hopefully return to some semblance of normalcy, we expect online tutoring to become increasingly important for our students’ success over time. Our resource center is open for deliveries, but our staff is still working from home. As summer approaches, we need your support now more than ever, so that our kids don’t fall behind even further and have fun activities (albeit online) to keep them learning all summer long.
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.