|School on Wheels at UCLA
by Angela Marie Sanchez
As a second-year History major and double minor in English and Education, I have my share of commitments with academics, work, community service, and even a club sport on the side. In short, like any other student on UCLA’s campus, I’m busy. But there is one activity I absolutely had to make time for this year: starting up a student group.
Among the traits of being a True Bruin is service. More than anything I wanted make the last happen with School on Wheels, Inc.
School on Wheels, Inc. is a non-profit organization that recruits and assigns tutors to work with homeless students, grades K-12, at their local shelters. I hoped to establish a School on Wheels at UCLA student group to work in tandem with the original organization except with Bruin mentors.
It would be an even exchange. In addition to granting School on Wheels children interaction with UCLA students and a greater level of academia that they may not have otherwise had, the School on Wheels at UCLA student group provides Bruin volunteer tutors and mentors with a new social perspective through an organization that addresses the needs of disadvantaged youth in dire circumstances on both an individual and group basis. For all of us who are privileged it is important to realize and assist those in need.
When most people think of homelessness they don’t think of children. Few people know that one in four people who are homeless is a child under eighteen years of age and that there are over a quarter million homeless children in the state of California alone. Most of all, homelessness is not something often associated with pursuing higher education, much less going to UCLA. I was inspired to begin a School on Wheels student group here at UCLA for one simple reason: I wished to repay a service that had been afforded to me.
For the last two years of high school I was homeless, my family comprised of just my father and me. We motel-hopped, stayed in cold winter shelters, and eventually came to stay at a family shelter. I knew I was fortunate to have a father who not only recognized the value of my education but also everything I had invested in the one school district I knew. Where most parents would have had their child transferred or simply drop out in favor of survival, my father ensured I could continue attending my one high school. He was my first post for stability. The second was my tutor.
In the shelter I noticed other children would have a tutor who would meet them in the shelter’s conference room and spend about an hour or so reviewing homework. The site coordinator, Natasha, informed me the tutors were volunteers from School on Wheels. Whenever she happened by the shelter, Natasha politely inquired if I needed assistance. I was finishing up my junior year and, even with four AP classes, I had everything under control. I was meeting deadlines, keeping up with material, and my instructors were still largely oblivious to my personal circumstances. I was set. Then came senior year and I found myself floundering in my math class.
Natasha kindly and enthusiastically extended School on Wheels’ services. “What kind of math are you taking? Geometry?”
“Calculus,” I answered.
“Oh.” Natasha paused. “This may take a while.”
I wasn’t surprised; after all, how many people could tutor calculus? But when they did find someone a few weeks later, it wasn’t just any tutor but an astrophysicist from CalTech! Yacine was a rocket scientist in the literal sense with the patience and efficiency to review every one of my questions and challenges.However, having a School on Wheels tutor meant much more than just someone to go over homework with me and explain a theorem or three; it was having someone who came into the shelter with a fresh perspective and from a background who could appreciate the academic rigor of my courses.
I was a senior finishing up high school, I anticipated college just as much as the next SAT/AP/acronym-overwhelmed student, but I had only a vague inkling of what was in store for me. Seeing someone of Yacine’s caliber, a Master of Science, step into the picture jumpstarted my motivation. When my spirits were flagging and the stress of the shelter – whether or not I’d have a roof over my head in rainy February, if I’d have to report failing an AP to a prospective university – grew to I knew I had Mondays to look forward to when my tutor would return and remind me that higher education was so much more than a website and a pamphlet.
My family finally got subsidized housing in April 2009 and I was able to return on graduation night with not just honors and a 4.23 GPA but to my own bed again.
Caught up in the whirlwind of my first year at UCLA, bouncing from classes to work to volunteering with Los Angeles Team Mentoring to getting into the club sport kendo, I found little time for myself much less starting a student group. Finally, in this past Spring Quarter, I decided not to let another week slip past. At the very least, I needed to find out the requirements: signatories, funding, volunteers, a veritable battle plan. Although it was already too late in the quarter to register a student group right away that didn’t mean I couldn’t look for volunteers.
I turned to the UCLA home base that had been there for me since the summer: AAP. Of all my UCLA experiences, I could not be grateful enough for the Freshman Summer Program which introduced me to the most dedicated on-campus organization committed to the academic advancement of aspiring scholars from disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds. AAP kindly got the word out with a mass posting on the My UCLA pages of AAP affiliated students.
The response I received was tremendous. Nearly one hundred interested Bruins replied within the first two weeks of the announcement. I was stunned – though not surprised – by the enthusiasm my UCLA family’s support. Volunteers sprang from not just the undergrad crowd but from graduates and alumni as well. A School on Wheels student group was well underway.
Thus far, School on Wheels at UCLA has hosted two volunteer orientations on campus this past summer (courtesy of the James West Alumni Center) and became an officially recognized student group this past October. I would like to further extend my thanks everyone who has taken an interest in the organization and helped turn young students’ dreams into realities.
Note: If you would like more information about the School on Wheels at UCLA student group please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Secondary Note: NBC is currently airing the program “My School Pride,” in which volunteers renovate schools in need in record time, touching the lives of students, teachers, and the community. The program also has a weekly segment on volunteers. A segment featuring Angela M. Sanchez aired in November 2010.
More to Come...