Aug 5

Volunteers of the Month – August 2020

Liat Smener

Region 3

Liat is an incredible tutor, and has been volunteering with School On Wheels since she was in high school! Liat now attends UCLA, and in addition to volunteering as a tutor, she has been instrumental in helping us relaunch a School On Wheels at UCLA club!

Alex Toutant, Coordinator

I started volunteering to help students become motivated and hopeful of pursuing higher education than they thought possible. One experience with a student that makes me smile is when I taught the five-year-old I am tutoring how to spell the words “apple” and “lizard.” Seeing their faces light up when they finally understand something melts my heart.

Jannah Jakvani

Region 6

Jannah is an amazing and dedicated tutor. From the first day I met her, she demonstrated a very natural ability to understand and connect with her student, Dominic. Jannah is very upbeat and encouraging with her student and is always such an incredible champion for him… she’s his biggest cheerleader! Jannah’s love for helping others shines bright when she’s tutoring. I had the pleasure of sitting in on her first session and was so impressed to see how quickly she connected with her student and the two became a really great team. I’m so grateful for what she does. Jannah is a shining star indeed!

Stephanie Swenseid, Coordinator

I started volunteering with School on Wheels because education has always played a huge part in my life. I believe every student should have access to educational resources to excel in school. This is why I am pursuing a career in education. I recognize the privilege I had growing up of having access to tutoring and other educational opportunities that often require financial means that not everyone has. School on Wheels recognizes the importance of providing the educational support that a lot of students need and often are unable to receive. I love volunteering with School on Wheels because of the values it stands for and the mission it is accomplishing.

During a recent tutoring session, my student Dominic and I were discussing empathy and going over scenarios in which we would express empathy to another individual. In the scenario we were dealing with, a girl was sad about not being able to go to prom because she did not have the money to buy a ticket and a dress. Dominic’s immediate response to the scenario was to help the girl out by contributing to buying her dress and ticket. This experience stayed with me because it showed how big Dominic’s heart is and really speaks to his character and personality. As a tutor, your responsibility is to provide support to your student and help them with their school work. However, more often than not, I find myself learning something new from the student I tutor every single session.

Ingrid Hoyos

Region 5

Ingrid & her student have faced many obstacles in tutoring online since COVID began. Her resilience and continued efforts made it possible for her student to catch up with homework over the summer!

Jesse Pasquan, Coordinator

I was looking for volunteer opportunities in my community and when I came across School on Wheels, I was surprised to learn that so many children in Southern California do not have a home. I found that to be so heartbreaking and unacceptable. I started to inform myself on all of the work School on Wheels does to help break the homelessness cycle for these kids and I wanted to be a part of that. Children are the future of our world and I really do believe it is our responsibility, as members of this community, to help them forge a better future. They cannot be left behind. When I work with my student, I can see just how intelligent and perceptive she is. Her math skills are outstanding but she has a bit of trouble with reading – it is her least favorite subject.

One time, we were reading at the library during our tutoring session. The hour was up and I told her I would see her the following week to read some more. To my surprise, she didn’t put the book down! I was very happy about that because she had not shown much interest in reading before. As I was leaving, I saw that she was actually trying to read the book to her mom. That really put a smile on my face; I am a writer, so stories are super important to me. I am so hopeful that my student will discover just how magical books are and I know it’s only a matter of time before the stories she reads really start to come to life in her imagination and reading will no longer feel like hard work. Being a tutor feels so rewarding. It is remarkable when you start to see that the hour you dedicate to your student each week, as little as it seems, can actually make a big difference in their lives. They can go from feeling completely lost or uninterested in school to feeling confident and motivated to keep moving forward.

Mel Sakurada

Region 2

I knew Mel was going to be an amazing tutor the day I met them! They displayed true dedication and commitment to their student from the beginning. From working on arts and crafts to creating an additional homework packet, Mel has always gone the extra mile for their student. I can always count on Mel to be consistent and advocate for their student.

Carlie Whittaker, Coordinator

I was specifically looking for ways I could use my past experiences working as a Literacy Mentor and spending weekends with friends distributing resources to displaced communities in the Bay Area. I found a listing for School on Wheels & thought it’d be a great match, and I was absolutely right! I’ve always wanted to continue bolstering my repertoire of experience to follow a long-time dream of curating positive, self-affirming spaces and opportunities for systematically disenfranchised populations. I had this one excellent student — my first after joining School on Wheels — who had difficulty adjusting to weekly sessions because he would be tired after a full day of school.

During one session, I noticed his attention was more difficult to maintain than usual. I decided to spend less time on curricular activities and focus more time on figuring out what subjects actually piqued his interest. That session was the first time I had seen him light up. He told me about all these things he loved doing but never got around to (most of which I was entirely unfamiliar with). He loved video games, science, chemistry, space, physics, finger boarding — the list went on and on! After that session, I completely changed the way I divided up our time and prepared for our sessions. A combination of Ivan feeling heard and seen mixed with taking risks as a tutor completely revolutionized not only our tutor-student relationship but also the way I saw what tutoring could look like and how learning could be made accessible to the student’s needs.

Moira Nelson

Region 4

Moira is one of the kindest, sweetest, and most gentle souls I have ever encountered during my time at School on Wheels. Every time I talk with her about tutoring her student, she brings nothing but excitement, positivity, and enthusiasm! Moira is a breath of fresh air and I love having her as a volunteer. She and her student have a special bond and I am so happy that these two have each other.

Kristina Rakosh, Coordinator

Just a year ago, a friend of mine who knew that I had recently retired and was thinking about volunteering as a tutor invited me to a School on Wheels presentation at the Hermosa Beach Rotary Club. I had already been volunteering as a Rolling Reader at a local grammar school, and I thought tutoring with School on Wheels would be a good way to build on what for me is a great source of satisfaction. Before retirement, I worked for over 30 years as a developmental editor of college science textbooks. I am a learning junkie and love especially to explore the world through the eyes of young people who are just beginning to get acquainted with it. A picture my student Nathalie recently drew makes me smile — the sweet expression, arms reaching toward two butterflies, and the upward tilt of the feet are all perfect representations of Nathalie’s spirited, upbeat personality.