When we applied for funding from the Rotary Foundation in June of 2020, we were in the midst of intense planning for the coming school year. We had just navigated four months of supporting our partners, our students, and their families with remote learning. We’d gone from distributing food and technology at the onset of the pandemic to helping overcome internet issues and ensuring that students stayed connected to their schools. When internet hurdles couldn’t be overcome, we printed paper learning packets and distributed them to our students throughout the city.

We knew that the coming school year would continue to present new challenges each day and, while our staff was prepared to meet those challenges, it would have been impossible to do it alone. Normally, our programs are supported by 400+ in-person volunteer tutors but social distancing safety requirements paired with many of our volunteers’ shifting availability due to the pandemic, we were going to have to rely on our staff more than ever.

The Rotary Foundation listened to our need and granted us $25,000 to help keep our robust support of our families and partners going. Their grant supported our increased reliance on part-time staff members across all our partner sites. During a year when funding felt uncertain, this gift gave us a much-needed boost. With this gift and other individual and foundation support, our programs never paused. Our staff tutored in motel parking lots, created and staffed learning pods when school was remote, and supported students and families virtually when meeting in-person wasn’t possible.

Distance learning and school building closures exacerbated the challenges identifying unhoused children. Nationally, there’s been a 28% decrease in number of students identified as homeless between 2020 and 2019, according to a study by SchoolHouse Connection and Poverty Solutions. At the same time that fewer students are being identified, more students are estimated to be homeless. Our remote attendance support and continued communication ensured our students were not lost. During our conversations with many of our school partners, they’ve shared with us that they oftentimes weren’t connecting with the same kids we saw. Because of our connections to our students, we were able to reach a different group of kids and help bridge the communications gap and reconnect students to their schools during this time.

Despite all the challenges to stay connected, we were also able to more fully engage the families of our students and help them with education-based case management and educational goal setting, increasing goals met by 31% over the previous school year. As this school year comes to a close, we are looking ahead to next year and reflecting on how much can happen in just 12 months. We know the year ahead will have its own set of challenges, but we’re ready to face them just as we faced the past year. Thanks to funding support from Rotary Foundation and their focus on service above self, we kept students and families connected during a year when many were lost. They helped keep our program success and momentum going and we are truly excited about what’s ahead for our students, their families, and our partners next year.

Are you looking for a way to get involved with School on Wheels this year? You can apply to be a volunteer tutor for the fall 2021 semester or donate to support our programs!