(Top) Team Leader for Schools on Wheels, Charles Evans, and Stefanie Aguilar, Regional Coordinator for South LA Learning Center discuss the future of the School on Wheels.
photo by Troy Tieuel
The non-profit provides a haven for homeless youth while educating and mentoring them for the future.
There is a place where homeless children can escape from the reality they live in. A place where they are educated further based on their needs and more importantly, a place where they can meet life-long friends. School on Wheels is that place.
The local non-profit is celebrating their 20th year anniversary of making differences in the lives of the homeless youth in Southern California. A typical day at the School on Wheel’s South LA location involves waiting for participating children to get out of school. They walk the children back to their building where snacks are given and learning time begins. Children have the opportunity to journal, read, and engage in integrated learning. These learning avenues are all with the help of volunteer tutors who each help an assigned child once a week. On special days, field trips are taken to various places like the beach, restaurants and other recreational places. Children who don’t live near prime locations are tutored at their homeless shelter by commuting tutors. School on Wheels covers the following counties: Orange County, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles and have two prime locations in South LA and Skid Row. The nonprofit is able to get homeless children involved by maintaining close relationships with surrounding homeless shelters.
Team Leader for Schools on Wheels, Charles Evans, says there are so many rewarding things he experiences from the children he works with. He says there is one main thing that children can benefit from being involved.
“It sounds really simple, but I think the most important thing that we give these kids is hope. We always tell our volunteers that, you know, don’t go into the situation expecting your student to go from a F to an A. Just showing up for one hour every week just for that student, is more than you would ever know,” he says.
Evans urges that School on Wheels operates on consistency, something that he says homeless children lack due to their unstable living conditions. He also says that consistency is rewarding for both children and staff.
“The smiles that we put on kids faces, like I said from giving nothing but showing up to the shelter once a week. I think most of the time, it ends up being more for the tutors and us than we realize what we’re doing for the kids because it changes us.”
KIDS THRIVE IN A POSITIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT: (Above) School on Wheels tutor, Deborah Akinsilo assists two students during their scheduled individual reading time.
Regional coordinator for the South LA Learning Center/Mid-City/Crenshaw District, Stefanie Aguilar was one of those tutors that experienced a change. She was an art teacher and started to bring her high school students to help children with art projects. Once she learned there was an opening within School on Wheels, she applied and got the job.
Others have experienced similar feelings like Aguilar. Evans told the story of a tutor who wanted to continue a friendship with her assigned student outside of the allotted time. After signing appropriate forms to release liability from School on Wheels, she now actively communicates with her friend, who has just recently informed her of getting into an Honors High School Math class. For that young girl, math was her worst subject and Evans says stories like those are stories to be remembered.
Evans himself also has a similar story as he continues to work with the Harris family who had been homeless for three and a half years. Single mother of four, Reba Harris described her difficulty of homelessness with boys, where most homeless shelters don’t allow boys over a certain age. She says that her children’s continuous involvement with School on Wheels has helped not only her children, but her own situation.
“Everything is such a blessing. I’m just seeing beautiful things. Grateful for my boys alone to see a man that sets an example,” Harris said with a smile on her face.
Without her sons growing up with a male figure, she says Evans has been a great help in guiding them through their difficult experiences. The Harris family now lives in permanent housing. They continue to stay involved with School on Wheels, by attending field trips, that Harris says are great resources to keep their minds off their situation.
School on Wheels tutored over 2,000 kids last year. There have been more than 1,500 tutors over the year and have reached 5,000 kids through not only their program, but special donations of school supplies they do for homeless children as well. They also provide resources for families and their children. They are linked with Boys and Girls Club, where they have actually paid for the membership of some homeless children/teens. They provide educational scholarships, which can go for college education, summer programs and other educational avenues. Four scholarships have been given away, with two of them going to former School on Wheels students attending USC. One of those students now runs a group on USC’s campus in support of School on Wheels, where she recruits and trains those wanting to get involved. The other student who received a scholarship sits on the scholarship committee. From hearing these stories of former students still actively staying in touch with School on Wheels, it shows how much of an influence the staff and tutors have on the homeless youth.
Local involvement is key for School on Wheels, who says it would be very beneficial to have tutors who know the area they’re tutoring in. Evans says better knowledge of the environment will enable an easier connection with the children those tutors work with. An average tutor works for School on Wheels for a year. Within that year, a tutor will work with a student for 4 months and typically work with a total of two students over that year. If you are interested in helping mentor and tutor the homeless youth, you can visit one of their many locations at the South Los Angeles Learning Center located at 5500 S. Western Avenue in Los Angeles, CA. You can call their office at (323) 291-8727 or visit the School on Wheel’s website at www.schoolonwheels.org and apply.