School on Wheels is focused on academics, but also on creating stability and safety for our students who are all too often experiencing stress, trauma, and uncertainty. When the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to shift to at-home learning and required that we temporarily suspend our in-person programming, we knew we had to act fast. We not only had to get technology and education into the hands of our students, but we also had to prevent students from falling off the radar, which can happen when families are in transient living situations without school to attend.

Our incredible program team immediately jumped into action alongside our school and shelter partners to not just pivot our programs, but to reconfigure them. Now we’re staying connected while remaining apart using Zoom, FaceTime, BookNook, and other technology. During a typical school year, tutoring would have ended May 14, but this year is anything but typical so our team has worked extra hard to stay connected with our students and families as we tutor straight through summer.

Since at-home learning started, we’ve provided a total of 337 virtual tutoring and classroom support sessions and have connected with 89% of families that were enrolled in tutoring when the stay-at-home order was issued. These connections are critical for our students and families, and they go well beyond academics. Each student and family receives customized support because every family’s story is different and every child’s need is unique. Siblings Cameron and Tyler came into our program after fleeing domestic violence and living unsheltered outside for a period of time. While they are now in stable housing with their mother, both boys are still living with the effects of trauma. The School on Wheels staff member who has been working with them for a year shared more about how she’s connecting to these siblings using technology to stay engaged in their academic and personal growth.

“Both boys are very bright, so during COVID the focus of my check-ins with them was social-emotional learning, not necessarily academically focused. I knew their mom took them to the library on a regular basis and that they were not able to do that with COVID. Since I was not able to go into the school to get some of our books they liked, I set both boys up with Epic!, an online library of books and videos. One of the boys was particularly interested in a set of Minecraft books, but one part of the series wasn’t available on Epic! I was able to purchase and deliver the books to him and I purchased the Kindle version of the book for myself so we can read together when we meet on video chats.

The boys also gave me a tour of where they live during one of our check-ins. Part of the tour was the garden they have planted. Cameron was very excited about the garden, so I gave him a plant journal where he is measuring the plants every few days, drawing what they look like, and making a graph that represents their growth. Cameron rarely wants to do anything that doesn’t involve a video game, so to get him excited about recording and measuring the garden was a big win. I think the fact that I gave him an old tape measure we had laying around helped his excitement. I don’t think he had ever played with one before!

Tyler is interested in how things work. So, I gave him a list of a few topics and had him choose which one he wanted to learn more about. He chose “How Airplanes Fly.” We have been able to share a PowerPoint I purchased from Teachers Pay Teachers and learn all about thrust, lift, gravity/weight, and pull. We have also been reading books on Epic! about the Wright Brothers. This week his assignment is to watch a couple videos on Epic! about how to make three different types of paper airplanes, fly them, measure them, and record the distances. I encouraged him to make some adjustments and see if it makes a difference in the flight, just like the Wright Brothers did. We made one plane together on Zoom. I’m hoping he does the rest this week.

Tyler is an introvert and doesn’t have a lot of friends at school. Sometimes by the end of the school day when I would see him in person, he was exhausted from being with people all day. It has been good to connect with him in his environment where he feels safe. We have had some good conversations that I know we would have never had at school.

It has been good to stay connected with them and see them smile when we chat.”

Tyler and Cameron are just two of the nearly 400 students we serve each school year. Their story may be unique, but the care and attention our staff dedicates to their individual needs is not. The need for education never stops and with your help, we can ensure that access to education never stops for our students. Join us online June 25 at 7:05pm as we celebrate the achievements of our students while raising essential funding for our programs that help change lives.