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NewsletterJuly 2010
It's that time of the year - graduation, prom, summer vacation - an exciting time for students.  All over the country, in big towns and small ones, graduation speakers will talk about dreams..."dream the dream and make it come true. " Or they will ask students not to give up on their dreams. Or perhaps they will talk about self reliance, that the best helping hand you can have is the one on the end of your arm.   They may talk about the beginning of the next step, the next phase, the vast potential that is yours if you seize it.
Unfortunately, those speeches aren't written for most of the homeless kids we see every day.  This is not because they don't have big dreams or huge potential.  It's because it's so darn hard for them to get an education.   First of all, over one-fifth of homeless kids do not even go to school.  For those who do, the educational system has a hard time doing what it's supposed to do.   Constant moves from shelter to shelter push the homeless student further and further behind in school.  Can you remember what it was like to start a new school? How about four or five in a school year?  The dread of new teachers and students, the lack of supplies to work in school, being hungry, not sleeping well or having a quiet place to do homework -- these are all the obstacles that homeless children face every day.   So it's hardly surprising that they quickly fall far below their grade levels.  Homeless children are on average nine times more likely to repeat a grade than housed students and four times more likely to drop out of school entirely.
And this newsletter, you will read about some of our amazing students and their graduation stories.   They make it sound easy. But the perseverance, resilience and courage it takes for a homeless student to graduate, whether from elementary, middle, or high school is astonishing. The odds they beat would put Las Vegas out of business.  
For them, the best helping hand just might have been yours.   Our goal is to give them the support and the courage to dream big dreams and make them come true.  With your help, we will continue to do just that every day.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you to each of you for helping make dreams come true and congratulations to every one of our School on Wheels students.  
With appreciation,

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Catherine Meek
Executive Director

aprilelementaryA 10 year old child should not have to concern herself with whether or not her family can afford dinner.  But Anjelica does.
Abby Reiter (pictured above with Anjelica) has been tutoring Anjelica since August of 2009.  Anjelica lives in a small motel in Santa Monica with her father. She doesn't speak often about being homeless, but when she does it's usually about the fact that they have to move so much or that her family is unable to purchase something because it's too expensive. It has definitely impacted her education. The moving around causes her to miss classes and she is several grades behind in math. She has no access to a computer, except when she meets her tutor Abby at the Santa Monica Library. For one class, every homework assignment was on the computer.  She would have had no way of completing it if it wasn't for her School on Wheels tutor.
School on Wheels asked tutor Abby if she had seen an improvement in Anjelica since they began their tutoring sessions.
"I have seen some improvements in Anjelica for sure. I'm not sure if it's me or other things in her life, but it's probably a combination.   She seems to be more confident and focused when someone's next to her, helping her with her homework. I've seen emotional improvement as well. I will take credit for this improvement, as I feel passionate about it. I have tried to infuse her with positivity and a "reach for the stars" attitude because she used to have a very pessimistic/realistic side to her - and I do not blame her. While she is as sweet as they come - a 10 year old child should not have to concern herself with whether or not her family can afford dinner. While she is very aware of the realisms of life, I've tried to focus her on fun things and leaving those harder things up to the adults in her life. I told her - "You're only a kid once - let Dad worry about the chicken for now - we'll all take care of you and nothing bad will happen to you - we won't let it! You just focus on being a kid ok?"  Those kinds of talks seem to have a good affect."

School on Wheels tutors continue to work with their students throughout the summer months and Abby is looking forward to taking Anjelica on a field trip.   When she asked Anjelica where she would like to go, her response was: "Let's go to an art museum!"  So that is what they are going to do.
Well done Anjelica for graduating from Elementary School.  We hope you continue to succeed!  Anjelica told us that she would like to be an 'Animal Doctor' when she grows up.  We were scheduled to ask Anjelica a few more follow up questions for this story but she was too upset to be interviewed. The night before, a man at the motel where she is staying started yelling and screaming at 3 am. This scared her and she couldn't get back to sleep. As a result, she had a terrible day at school and didn't feel like talking about anything, except to say that she wanted you to know that Abby was always nice to her.

brianmiddleLuke has shown my son that once you learn to read, you read to learn, and that is such a great lesson.
Although they are about to go their separate ways, Luke and Brian are certain they will always be in touch. Luke Bawazer says that tutoring 13 year old Brian (pictured left at his graduation)  has been a wonderful experience.  "Brian is a very intelligent and considerate person and I wish the best for him, says Luke. "His family is very kind. He and I have never spoken about his homelessness.   We first met when his family lived at Transition House, a homeless shelter in Santa Barbara.  His parents are very supportive of him and have encouraged him to attend our tutoring sessions regularly.   The family is now in permanent housing but we have continued to meet regularly."  Now that Brian has graduated from Junior High and Luke is about to finish his Doctorate in BioChemistry, they are coming to a natural end to their weekly tutoring sessions. Brian's Mom wants to encourage Brian to go to college and she recently asked Luke if she should be pushing him; she didn't want to push him if he was not capable. Luke told her she should absolutely encourage him to go to college because he is very capable. Luke really hopes Brian stays motivated to succeed in school.  Graciela, Brian's mom, talked to School on Wheels recently about what it has been like to have a tutor and what a difference it has made to her son academically and socially.  
"I just want the best for my son.  My family has never really valued education and we do not read much, but Luke has shown my son that once you learn to read, you read to learn, and that is such a great lesson.  Luke has helped Brian do well in school and has kept him focused. When we were homeless, we lived in my car and stayed at relative's houses until we had to leave.  It was tough, but now I am working full time and my eldest daughter (who used to have a School on Wheels tutor too) is getting straight A's and we have made sure that every week Brian meets Luke and he has become part of the family, coming to Birthday celebrations and Brian's school event.
Luke used to meet Brian at the bookstore in Santa Barbara on a Sunday and the manager at Borders got to know them and always gave them a friendly 'hello.' Sometimes they would grab atlases to look at maps. They both really like soccer, so they would point out countries that have well known soccer teams.  Brian's favorite soccer player is Torres who is playing for Spain in the World Cup.  
Brian, like kids everywhere, sometimes gets very bored with school, so some of their sessions were just discussions about how to get and stay motivated. They tried things like 10 minute focus sessions (not thinking about anything else in the world except what they were doing, for just 10 minutes), recording how much study time they did each day during the week and then reporting back to each other and finding motivational quotes off the internet.  Brian said that the best thing about his tutor Luke is that "he always tries hard and never gives up."
We are so proud of Brian and Luke and the relationship they have developed over the years.  Congratulations to you both, soon to be high school freshman Brian Palma and Doctor Luke Bawazer.
high"Reach for the moon because even if you fall short, you will still reach the stars."
Lily has lived in a group foster home since the age of 13.  A couple of years ago, School on Wheels began providing tutoring services at one of the homes that are part of the Los Angeles Youth Network, which is a long-term residential program for runaway and homeless youth to assist them in developing skills for independent living.
Every week, a group of brave tutors (we say brave because they have to be to want to work with teenagers!) started to turn up to help whoever was around with their homework and studies.  Lily noticed these adults with their smiley bus badges, but thought nothing of them.  She had seen many adults come and go in her young life, but these volunteers were different.
 "At first I thought they were just volunteers, but they were consistent and came every week.  Before long they turned into therapists, mentors, friends and tutors.  It took a while, but I began to trust these people.  So many times I said 'I can't do this' and they would always encourage me and help me. Sometimes they would stay for 3 or 4 hours to make sure I "got" it. I love my tutors and they are all coming to my graduation on June 22nd."
Despite all the personal and emotional obstacles Lily has had to face as a foster youth, she is graduating from Hollywood High School and will be attending USC in the fall.  She is the first foster youth from her group home to attend USC and her mentor and education counselor, Jennifer Levins, could not be more proud. "Lily has reached her educational goal.  School on Wheels has been such a benefit for Lily and our other foster youth. They move around so much and fall behind in school.  Education is not a priority. A roof over their head and having somewhere to live is their priority.  But having a tutor has helped our clients develop healthy relationships.  They all feel very close to their tutors"
Lily has always done well in school and she decided early on that this was going to be her way out of the foster system. In her last year at high school, she doubled up on her classes and with the help of School on Wheels she graduated a year early.  Last summer, she participated in a peer mentoring program, working  with the children at our Skid Row Learning Center.  She saw the need for more backpacks and school supplies so she started her own nonprofit, Operation Backpack, and donated the proceeds to School on Wheels.  This year she is helping at a domestic violence shelter - resourcing professional clothes for the residents to wear at job interviews.
 Lily will be reading for a double major in psychology and education at USC and wants to continue to give back to her community.  When asked how School on Wheels can help her in the future, she said that she would like to see more training opportunities for tutors who work with children in group foster homes.
'These kids are very sensitive and have trust issues," says Lily.  "A lot of times they only hear the negative stuff, so it is important that tutors remain positive and understand that these kids have been through a lot'.  When asked about the tutors who helped her she talks about Jason Rarick and Ida Smitiwitaya whom she said went above and beyond.  She also mentioned how one thing Jason said a couple of years ago stuck in her head, "He said his Grandma used to say to him, 'reach for the moon because even if you fall short you will still reach the stars' He said she used to say it took as much energy to dream big as it did to dream small, so why not make your dreams big? I liked that and the fact that Jason always believed in me and always made an effort to listen to me helped me to dream big too."
Lily received nine different scholarships to pay her way through college.  She is grateful to all the people in her life that have helped her get there, but she said if it wasn't for the volunteers with the smiley bus badges that turned up week after week, celebrated birthdays and special occasions with her, gave her a shoulder to cry on and encouragement to keep going, she may never have had the courage to reach for the moon.
 The enhancement of educational opportunities for homeless children from kindergarten through twelfth grade.  Our goal is to shrink the gaps in their education and provide them with the highest education possible.
tutornewsTUTOR NEWS
Thank you to all our supporters who have donated to our new Learning Center.  
If you would like to help, we still need some items:

Noise Control Panels  

Automatic Handryers  

Intercom/security system

IN THE NEWSinthenews

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Homeless: Motel Kids of Orange County
Premieres Monday, July 26 at 9 p.m.
This documentary chronicles a summer in the lives of a class of homeless kids (and School on Wheels Students) who attend a year-round school serving the children of the working poor in Orange County. Directed and produced by Alexandra Pelosi.

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It's Not What We Say, It's What We Do That Matters
Read Catherine's latest blog here.

 For all the latest School on Wheels news
Dr. Luke and Brian

bus program
busBUS Program
Believe Understand
Almost 100 high school students have participated in campus tours of colleges so far this year.  Students and tutors visited USC, UCLA, Everest College, and UCSB to name but a few.  We asked some of the students if the tour made them think any differently about life after high school?
"Yes, it made me realize how much I want to go to college and how important it is," Maurlei
"Kind of, before I just wanted to graduate and now I would like to attend college," Sandy
"Yes, because I found out that there's more to life than school; and there are scholarships and funds," Lesley


Thank you to our amazing supporters for donating to our New Learning Center by sponsoring a tile for $250.  We still have a few, not many, letters and numbers left.  You can call our office to reserve your tile.
(805) 641-1678 
Our new Skid Row Learning Center will be open for students on August 1 at our new location;
600 East 7th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90014.
We will celebrate our expansion with a Grand Opening on September 8, 2010 from 4pm to 6pm. 
If you are no longer a School on Wheels volunteer, or do not wish to receive our periodic correspondance, please CLICK HERE to unsubscribe, thank you.

Congratulations to all our Graduates and all the tutors that helped them.

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