Jul 17

Volunteers of the Month – July 2022

Brian J. Cheng

Brian J. Cheng

Brian is a highly creative and dedicated tutor who is exceptional at incorporating his student’s interests to make learning fun and relevant. Brian goes above and beyond by creating unique tutoring plans every week. His sessions are the perfect mix of academics, social-emotional learning, and non-academic fun! I am so fortunate to have Brian on my team.

– Manmeet Sodhi, Volunteer Coordinator

I have always been passionate about teaching, and am very motivated to use my current knowledge to give back to others as a teacher and mentor and help them achieve their goals. I saw School on Wheels as a fun way to help connect me to students in need! 

If I had to choose one thing as my favorite part of tutoring, it would be seeing the smile slowly form on my student’s face when something clicks, or the lightbulb suddenly lighting up when a revelation is reached. These moments are always so exciting and heartwarming, and they really do encourage me to keep doing what I love (as well as encourage the student to keep on learning and exploring!).

One of my favorite memories is playing a game that I had invented that was similar to the video game, Snake. We used BigBlueButton’s online drawing feature on a shared canvas to draw our snakes, and we had such a blast! All the obstacles that we drew for each other cracked us up so much and our game became a beloved tradition for future tutoring sessions.

For me, tutoring at School on Wheels has been a dream come true, and has allowed me to develop my teaching skills and further my passion for teaching. If you’re even remotely interested in being a tutor, I would highly recommend you to join us and see what you discover! 

Sandra Incontro 

Sandra Incontro

I nominated Sandra because she works so hard to ensure her students have the support they need. When I asked her if she was interested in taking on a second student who needed help learning English, she did not hesitate to take on the added challenge! She always goes above and beyond and deserves to be recognized for her hard work. When her student moved into a new transition shelter and did not have a desk chair or lamp, she advocated for him and helped him complete his scholarship application. He was one of our scholarship recipients last quarter! 

– Aeriell Woodhams, Volunteer Coordinator 

I had quit my portfolio management job about five years earlier to start substitute teaching and tutoring. It always felt like I was having a larger, more positive impact on my students when I was tutoring, even with a lot of my students coming from families who could afford a private tutor. As a USC alumna I was initially attracted to an LA Times article about the former USC student who started School on Wheels. I soon realized tutoring with School on Wheels was a great way to help students REALLY in need, who had fallen behind; not just due to COVID-19, but for other, more systemic reasons.

I find the little things most rewarding, such as when my sixth grade student tells me he’s excited that he was invited to a friend’s house, or when my high school student sounds excited to tell me about her favorite band and picks a song she would like us to translate together. I also love it when a student or his/her parent tells me about a test score they’re proud of!

When completing a Favorite Things worksheet in our very first session my student, a sixth grader, told me his favorite day of the week was Thursday, and I asked why a weekday and not a weekend. He said he likes Thursdays because there is less schoolwork and he can still look forward to Friday. When he told me he doesn’t like weekends because he doesn’t get to see his friends—he lives in a domestic violence shelter—I began to see the true picture of his struggle and realized how truly important a role school plays in his life.

I would tell any potential future tutors to take the position very seriously, more seriously than the term volunteer implies. All students, but particularly many of these students, crave consistency. They need a good role model, someone who can be flexible, prompt, and dependable, since so much in their lives is very unpredictable. It can be difficult for some students to trust a newcomer and to open up, so you will need to build a relationship not only with the student, but also with the parent.

Kyla Yadao

Kyla Yadao

Kyla is incredibly creative, patient, and dedicated when it comes to tutoring. For every session with her student, she creates an agenda that features photos of his favorite TV or video game characters. Throughout her lessons, she finds creative ways to incorporate her student’s interests and keep him engaged in learning. Kyla is a wonderful tutor and I’m so glad to have her on my team!

– Emma Gerch, Volunteer Coordinator

I was inspired by my prior high school opportunities of working with the after-school YMCA program at two elementary schools in my hometown. Along with being able to assist them with their homework, getting to interact with students of all ages doing outside activities and craft projects was a very fulfilling experience.

I find the “ah ha!” moments to be the most rewarding, especially when you have spent multiple sessions trying to teach a topic, trying to come up with digestible or relatable analogies for an idea… and it suddenly clicks into place for them. 

Once we were reading a book my student had chosen when he came across a word he always had trouble pronouncing. Without any of my guidance, he sounded it out correctly, then said, “OMG, how did I do it??” He was so proud of himself at that moment, and so was I.

The kind of relationship you can build with your student, even when you may face scheduling complications or communication issues, is something that will always stick with you.

Ana Leandro-Ramos

Ana Leandro-Ramos

Ana is dedicated and committed to both her students. She is a fantastic role model and a fierce advocate for her students. I am fortunate to have Ana on my team!

– Manmeet Sodhi, Senior Volunteer Engagement Specialist

When I decided to join School on Wheels, I had just received a fellowship that would help me get through college. I had been tutoring in different settings and always felt that there was so much work to be done in my and surrounding communities. I wanted to give back to my community and I found School on Wheels. It was exactly what I was looking for, an opportunity to give back to my community and to give back to those who needed it the most.

While tutoring is always rewarding, I believe this experience has been quite different because the environment in which we tutor is sometimes more noisy, more unexpected and in all honesty more real. I believe that is why this has been the most rewarding experience. This type of tutoring is close to the reality I experience in my community, it is the reality of many students and the need has only become heightened in the pandemic. Helping students like Fergie remind me that we as educators can be the change we seek, knowing that I am using my skills to directly help at least one student in the community is the biggest reward.

My approach for tutoring is always one of taking in students for young humans rather than only students, when academics and the home are too intertwined it is even more important to bridge those two. This is why I believe the most memorable experiences are the times where Fergie is emotional, when she expresses gratitude for having me as a tutor, when she thanks me for my patience, understanding, and for introducing her to scholarship opportunities. For me it is part of the job to do the best I can to make every session worthwhile and interesting, but out of everything I had done with Fergie it is those moments that will stay with me forever.

I always encourage undergraduates and peers around me to volunteer with School on Wheels, not only is it service some of us have the advantage to provide but again we can be part of the change we seek. I tell my peers, “If you want to help your community, if you want to have an impact on students lives, if you want to take your tutoring skills and apply them for a good cause, then this is the perfect opportunity for you to do that.”

Shani Fernando

Shani Fernando

Shani exemplifies persistence, courage, and empathy. She radiates kindness and patience to everyone she meets- her student, other tutors, her student’s family, and myself. Shani is a great role model who encourages her student to make mistakes, learn from them, and feel comfortable to ask questions.

– Maxine Faustino, Senior Volunteer Engagement Specialist

I volunteer with School on Wheels because of the commitment they have to changing the status quo in serving those with the requirement being they don’t have a forever home to go to. As taught to us by the legend and forever hero, Dr. Paul Farmer, let’s provide a preferential option to the poor, and within our educational system: one that doesn’t leave any children behind. In memoriam of Dr. Paul E. Farmer, the man who changed the world for those who needed it the most. Here at School on Wheels, we’re continuing your work caring for those who need our help the most!

It is an honor to teach Jonnea and watch her blossom and flourish into this truly amazing, extraordinary, special young girl.

One day, Jonnea was having an especially rough day, and so I was trying to make sure she knew that I was there for her. Nonetheless, Jonnea could tell something was bothering me that same exact session and instructed me to close my eyes. A few moments later, she told me to open them. What I saw at that point was immense strength, the sweetest compassion, and a gentle, beautiful soul.

The core humanity embedded within others should be how we care for those suffering from things such as poverty, homelessness, socioeconomic stressors, trauma, and adverse life circumstances. Let’s begin prioritizing for those in the margins of society. Individuals who are facing homelessness must be given the opportunity and resources to excel like never before.