At School on Wheels, we aim to provide after-school and summertime academic services to children who are living in shelters, cars, foster homes, or the streets in Southern California. These children range from ages five to 18. We have a large body of volunteer tutors who meet with students at shelters, libraries, and schools all across the region. While the goal of the nonprofit is to be able to provide each student with a personal tutor, it is difficult to match each student with a tutor when there is a growing number of homeless and foster youth.
For example, at the Skid Row Learning Center, an after-school program, our busiest day so far has included 29 students and four adults (including myself). On those days, the vibe shifts from a tutoring center to a classroom with a team that consists of a teacher and a few teaching aids, and it is often hard to be able to provide the one-on-one attention each student needs. Children who live near the poverty line struggle in school far more than those who are not, but homeless children struggle even more than children who live near the poverty line. As a result, many students’ academic abilities may not match with their grade and therefore, need even more personalized assistance.
As a sociology major working in one of the biggest homeless “cities” in America, I am constantly seeing examples of how the social structures of race and gender are intertwined with systemic poverty. Many of the children who attend the Skid Row Learning Center are students of color, and some know more than one language. Some students who leave the Learning Center after their families have secured more permanent housing return, because their families have become homeless again. Although many of these children have experienced numerous traumas, School on Wheels focuses on helping these children grow academically and emotionally by providing some solace and fun.
Summers at the School on Wheels Skid Row Learning Center are a combination of academics and play! On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, we provide the students with individualized worksheets and activities that focus on helping them improve in areas where they scored below the Common Core standards for their grade. On Tuesdays, we walk to Pershing Square Park in Downtown Los Angeles for crafts and games, sponsored by L.A. Recreation and Parks, and on Thursdays, we go on field trips, also sponsored by L.A. Recreation and Parks. This summer, the students have gotten the chance to go to the Getty Villa, the L.A. Zoo, California Science Center, Mother’s Beach in Marina Del Rey, and Universal Studios.
My internship with School on Wheels at the Skid Row Learning Center in Downtown Los Angeles has given me the opportunity to work behind the scenes and observe how a nonprofit functions while being able to work directly with the people that are impacted most by the nonprofit’s mission: tutoring homeless and foster youth in Southern California.
If you want to learn more about School on Wheels, check out schoolonwheels.org, and if you reside in the Southern California region, please consider becoming a volunteer tutor!