Tag: Volunteers

Mar 13

Annual Safety Update

Every year we publish our safety policies to remind volunteers of how important it is to comply with these mandated policies. At School on Wheels, we do everything we can to protect our students – the most vulnerable children in our society. We also want to safeguard our volunteers from potential risks. Please review these mandatory policies again to help ensure the safety of our students, as well as our volunteers. 

Tutoring Policy

  • Tutoring must take place in a public area and has to be scheduled so that two or more tutors are present at the same time and place. For smaller locations, libraries or other public locations with only one tutor, the tutor must work with their student within sight and earshot of another adult (shelter staff/ residents, library staff or parents).
  • Tutors must refrain from initiating physical contact with students and must report immediately to their coordinator or School on Wheels staff if they feel uncomfortable in a situation.
  • Tutors are required to wear their School on Wheels badges to identify they are tutors and so that our students become comfortable with our name and logo. Please let your coordinator know if you need a new badge.

Field Trip Safety Policy

  • Tutors who wish to take students on field trips must consult and follow the SOW field trip policy. Tutors cannot provide transportation outside of this policy. If tutoring takes place outside a shelter, the parent/guardian is responsible for the student’s attendance and transportation. All parents/guardians must stay at the location for the duration of the off-site session.

Logging Policy

  • Volunteers are required to log all tutoring hours via the School on Wheels database. Logging is a critical and a mandatory part of being a volunteer in our program. This policy is first and foremost for the safety and security of our students, but also to protect our tutors. With accurate logging, we can identify exactly who, where and when tutoring takes place.

The safety of our students is a sacred trust. We cannot compromise that. I know you agree. Thank you so much for being a wonderful volunteer and ensuring the safety of your student. If you have any questions, please contact your coordinator. 

Catherine Meek
Executive Director

Aug 8

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 8/8/2017


“I’m working with a 6th grader and am having a hard time tutoring math. It’s so different from the way it was taught when I was in school. Sometimes I feel like I’m giving him the wrong information, and a couple of times I’ve definitely been wrong–and found it a little embarrassing. Any advice would be appreciated.”

My experience has been math is almost always the subject kids have problems with. I have a strong background in math, so usually my problem is how the subject is being taught in school.  I use a couple of sources. I first go to Khan Academy to see how they present the problem. I also have a number of books from third to sixth grade math on what the students should know and how Common Core is teaching it. Also, looking at the student’s book and homework assignment oftentimes has examples. Once I learn what particular section of math the student is working on, I will spend time prior to the meeting preparing so I don’t waste time when I am there. I always carry a small whiteboard and erasable markers to both show the student examples and let them work so I can see it. Additionally, seldom do students know the fundamentals very well (times tables, fractions, percentages), so I spend some part of the lesson reviewing them, usually with apps on a tablet.

Sixth grade might be algebra or geometry, and one of the first things I do is try to relate the subject to the real world. For example, algebraic equations are expressions of how nature works. The next time you go to a drinking fountain and press the handle, you will see that the water rises and then falls. The shape is a parabola and its equation is Y = X (squared). This can be too sophisticated mathematically, but it starts to help students understand the abstract nature of math.   

It is difficult to attempt to tutor a subject that you don’t know really well; however, today there are many online free courses that you can look at. Hope that helps.

Khan Academy Sign Up

About the Tutor: Richard Bennett graduated from the University of Michigan with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and has a JD from Whittier Law School. In his professional career, he was a software engineer, sales and marketing executive, and business owner of a software and consulting firm. He has been a volunteer for SOW for nine years, and for the last five years he has tutored students at Family Promise of the Verdugos. He is also currently a member of the Board of Directors for the Glendale YWCA.

Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature?
Email askatutor [at] schoolonwheels.org or use the #AskATutor hashtag on any of our social media sites.

Jul 12

Tutoring Teen Makes an Impact

Recent middle school graduate Zarina Yunis, age (almost!) 14, discusses her experiences tutoring with School on Wheels.

Middle and high school students are often looking for opportunities to volunteer and earn service hours. I highly recommend tutoring for School on Wheels. School on Wheels is a non-profit organization that helps support the educational needs of homeless students in Southern California. Tutor coordinators find volunteers to tutor homeless children living in motels, domestic violence shelters, and even kids who live on the streets. Tutoring for School on Wheels enables volunteers to utilize their academic skills while also helping other students achieve their potential.

I discovered School on Wheels when my mother became a tutor with them three years ago. She would tutor at our local library, and my brother and I would do our homework at a nearby table. I would often notice her students struggling with the math concepts they were learning in school. I had just learned some of these concepts myself, so I offered to help explain some of the concepts. I could relate well to these students because we were similar in age, and it was easy for me to guide them. That was when I found myself to have a knack for tutoring, so when I turned 12, I decided that I wanted to become a tutor myself. I filled out the online application, submitted my references, and participated in both the online and in-person trainings. Within a couple weeks, the regional coordinator had a student for me, and I was ready for my first tutoring session.  

Because I wasn’t yet 16, I participated with my mother in a family tutoring session. We were each assigned our own student. For those who aren’t tutoring with their parents, a parent or guardian only needs to be on the premises. Our first students were twins, so my mother and I each tutored one. Every Wednesday after school, my mother would drive me to our local library, and we would spend an hour helping the twins with their homework and areas where they were struggling. After several sessions I could see a significant improvement in my student’s math and reading abilities. Another student I had was struggling in math and needed help with double digit multiplication and long division. I approached it several different ways, but finally made her a “cheat sheet” that listed the actions for her to follow step-by-step along with explanations. She would use this sheet to walk her through each problem. Because she had a specialized educational plan that allowed for modifications, her teacher allowed her to use the guide when she was taking her test. She did very well on the test, and this made me feel proud of her and good about myself for helping her. I enjoy watching my students learn and grow after receiving guidance from me. It is gratifying to help students in need in any way I can.

This summer, I started group tutoring. Every Wednesday, I go to an elementary school to tutor a group of students who have signed up for the program. These students work on either an online math program or phonics program. While they work, the tutors move from student to student to see how they can help. In this method of tutoring, students are taught to be independent but have access to help when they need it. In contrast to the one-on-one tutoring experience, sometimes tutors are managing multiple students. It can be challenging at times, but it develops important skills that will help me in all aspects in my life.

In order to be able to teach a concept well, you have to know it well yourself. Tutoring enhances your own academic knowledge while helping others learn. Tutors use their creativity to demonstrate concepts in ways that deepen their student’s understanding. Tutoring for School on Wheels allows the opportunity to have a positive impact on the education of vulnerable populations. It has been a rewarding experience for me, and I highly recommend others to dedicate their time and get involved. 

Jul 5

Ask A Tutor Tuesday – 7/5/2017

Question: I tutor at a group home and the students never have homework. When I bring academic things to do they don’t want to participate. I feel like I’m not making any impact. They all definitely need help with basic skills.

That can definitely be a challenge! First of all, I would suggest increasing student ‘buy-in’ if possible. Many group home students are disenchanted with the educational system that they feel has left them behind and not addressed their needs. Even so, we understand as tutors that it is important to graduate from high school with the basic skills needed to get and hold down a job in order for these students to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. Start by talking to the students about their interests and goals. You might use some of the BUS lesson plans here to introduce post high-school options. We also have been adding academic resources, including a page of supplemental resources that has more creative lessons and games to entice even the most reluctant student.

Once students are able to connect their dreams and plans to education, they are more likely to accept help. If the student is in danger of not graduating or dropping out, do what you can to encourage them. Mentorship is often more important with high school students than homework help. Talk to your student(s) about your job, your experience at college, your hobbies and interests. See what you can find in common. Building this trust and relationship first may help students to more readily accept academic support. Remember to be as genuine and honest as you can be during your interactions; students can detect insincerity and will shut down if they do.

You can always reach out to School on Wheels staff for support. Remember, working with teens can be difficult, but it is also one of the most rewarding types of tutoring.

Amanda Carr joined School on Wheels in early 2015. As engagement specialist at School on Wheels, she is dedicated to providing volunteers with resources to help them succeed.

Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature?
Email askatutor [at] schoolonwheels.org or use the #AskATutor hashtag on any of our social media sites.


Mar 21

Ask a Tutor Tuesday – 3/21/2017

Question: I work in a group home. What right do I have to “put my foot down” and make them work? If they say they don’t want to work, what can I do?

Cathie Alter: Working in a group home is very challenging. I find I have to build a relationship and gain their trust before they will participate in the tutoring session. It took me four months to get the student I’m currently working with to fully engage in our math tutoring sessions. I started out by finding something she did like, which was reading and history. Initially, we spent the full hour discussing books and talking about Thomas Jefferson. I gradually started to increase the amount of time we spent on math. We now spend at least 75% of our time working on math and 25% visiting. It took awhile, but it was worth it. Her math skills have improved, and I can tell she is proud of herself. I hope this helps.

Amanda Carr: It can be challenging to work with older students, especially if they are unmotivated. As a tutor, your primary purpose feels like it should be helping with schoolwork, so it can be frustrating when those plans are thwarted. Fortunately, there are some strategies you can use to help motivate high school students. However, you must keep in mind that School on Wheels tutors are in shelters to tutor and serve as mentors–not to discipline. Remember that many students have had bad experiences with teachers and adults, and they may also be ashamed of what they don’t know. You cannot ‘make’ a student work, but you can use some tactics to persuade them.

  1. Like Cathie said above, if a student doesn’t want to work on homework, don’t force it. Have a conversation about something else, and find out what they are interested in, whether it is books, music, sports, etc. You can then use this information in future sessions, perhaps bringing in an article in on the subject to discuss. Take time to build a relationship with them, and they will be much more likely to go along with tutoring.
  2. Use our BUS Program, which is a mentoring program designed to get students to think about life after high school, as well as encourage them to graduate. There are several activities, like the Career Zone Make Money Choices exercise, which shows how education influences lifetime finances and goals.This might work to motivate them to complete their homework.
  3. Let your student lead. Ask them to teach you something. They might be completely surprised about what they know–and surprise you with their enthusiasm, as well.

The most important thing to remember is that even if you can’t get your students to work on homework, you are modelling good behavior by being present with them every week. Be creative and be flexible, and don’t forget to have fun!

Cathie Alter has been a School on Wheels tutor for one year.  She is a former law firm Administrator and CPA.

Amanda Carr joined School on Wheels in early 2015. As engagement specialist, she is dedicated to providing volunteers with resources to help them succeed.

Have a question for our Ask a Tutor feature?
Email askatutor [at] schoolonwheels.org or use the #AskATutor hashtag on any of our social media sites.