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.”