Written by Zarina Yunis
Startled by the alarming increase in homelessness in the past year, 12 Latina girls from San Fernando High School have taken it upon themselves to search for ways to help the homeless. These students are part of a program called DIY Girls, which “empowers girls to be confident makers and creators of technology,” according to the DIY (Do It Yourself) Girls’ website.
On a daily basis, these girls witness homelessness on the streets. They wanted to help the homeless families; however, donating money was not an option for their own low-income families. Despite their inability to contribute money, the girls weren’t about to let this obstacle prevent them from helping those who are less fortunate.
“With all the already existing programs in place to help end homelessness, we felt as if something more needed to be done to provide temporary relief to those who are displaced,” Paola Valtierra said in an email interview. Valtierra is a senior at San Fernando High School, and this will be her second year in the DIY Girls program.
Motivated to help the people in their community, the DIY girls got to work. They came up with the idea to create a solar-powered tent that could also function as a backpack. This one item could efficiently serve multiple needs and conserve space. The team of girls met frequently to work on the solar-powered tent, and a year later, they finished designing their prototype.
At times, the competition in the STEM field was intimidating for young Latina women. Evelyn Gomez, the executive director for DIY girls, recalls her experience at UCLA, getting her master’s degree in aerospace engineering. “I was often the only girl in the class and definitely the only Latina in the class. It felt like kind of imposter syndrome,” Gomez says, describing a feeling of chronic self-doubt even in the midst of evident success.
Nonetheless, the girls were determined to make a difference, regardless of their gender or race. They have not only made a positive impact on their community, but they have been role models for many other girls and have inspired them to pursue their passions. “Remember that there will always be obstacles in life but push through them because the outcome will be worth it,” Valtierra said.
“My student is staying back a grade and the rest of his friends are moving on to high school. He doesn’t want to do his work and thinks it’s pointless because he is going to fail anyway. How can I get him motivated to work during sessions?”
As a teenager myself, I can empathize with this student. Having to repeat a grade and being separated from your friends can be a blow to one’s confidence and cause levels of self esteem to drop. However, this doesn’t mean that a student should stop striving to make the most of his/her educational experience. Choose an appropriate time to sit down with your student and talk to him about his future. Remind him that his decisions can affect the course of his education. Choosing not take school seriously may cause him to be unqualified for future classes he will be interested in taking and even potential job opportunities.
If your student is still discouraged because he will be separated from his friends, remind him that he can still hang out with them during lunchtime or outside of school. He will also make new friends in his classes, and this experience may open the doors to friendships that wouldn’t have been made otherwise.
About the tutor: Zarina Yunis is in 9th grade and has been tutoring with School on Wheels since February 2016.
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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.