School On Wheels (SOW) was founded in 1993 as a tool to assist children in the homeless shelter system in Los Angeles to receive better educational services. School On Wheels isn't a vehicle, it's a team of trained volunteers who individually go into shelters to tutor children, encourage public school enrollment, and advocate for transient children.
While living in homeless shelters, the children are exposed to violence, drugs, and gangs, usually leaving them with little educational support at home, facilitating their involvement with the negative influences around them. SOW encourages the children and their families to enroll the kids in the public schools no matter how often they move from shelter to shelter, and SOW will follow the children as they move from school to school to continue their encouragement. They provide a new backpack filled with age appropriate school supplies for each child in the shelters they work with whether they are in the SOW tutoring program or not. They have also recently begun providing school uniforms for these same children for those attending one of the public schools that has initiated this requirement to provide a neutral gang identification environment.
The primary program of SOW is tutoring. Over 700 volunteer tutors of all professional backgrounds service 61 shelters and almost 2,000 homeless kids each year, grades K–12. The tutors go where the kids are; to their schools, public libraries, or the shelter cafeterias and Learning Rooms (see below for details) to provide one on one tutoring in what ever subject or subjects the child needs assistance with. The tutor forges a relationship with the child, becoming a mentor, gaining trust and endless encouragement to maintain their status as a student, instead of a local gang member. This trust is strengthened when SOW follows the student to their next school, proving to the child that he or she is not forgotten.
Another initiative of SOW is The Learning Room Project. This is an initiative to build a dedicated space for the tutors to do their jobs in the shelters themselves. A quite, educational environment intended only for the use of the children and the SOW tutors where they can have access to learning materials typically not available to this population such as computers, books, and an environment suitable for learning. The shelters that have a space available have the opportunity to have SOW remodel the space to be a suitable Learning Room, to be cared for by the shelter. SOW provides free architectural modifications where needed, new carpeting, walls, ceilings, lights, desks, computer workstations, and reading/study tables and chairs. This space provides a convenient and ideal learning environment for the child. Currently, tutors are sent to 45 shelters where only a few have a dedicated space for the SOW services.
School On Wheels
Agnes Stevens, Executive Director
28128 Pacific Coast Highway, #192
Malibu, CA 90265
Published on December 16, 2003