Distance learning has been a challenge for all students and their families, but for the estimated one out of 20 children in California experiencing homelessness, the challenges can seem insurmountable.
The pandemic has intensified the economic disparities, putting the neediest students at a further disadvantage.
“I am very scared and terrified for our families and our students,” said Charles Evans, the executive director of School on Wheels. “They’ve had to overcome so much with being homeless and then you add that other layer of distance learning.”
The nonprofit provides homeless students with one-on-one tutoring, school supplies, and other resources to support their education.
“We realize the kids are going to need a lot more support than they ever have before.”
With schools closed, homeless students not only lost a source of stability but also gained new challenges.
How do you do distance learning when you live in a shelter, a crowded motel room or in your family’s car?
“Mom is determined not to let her child fall behind so she basically drives around and she parks in Starbucks parking lot or McDonald’s parking lot just so they have an opportunity to access Wi-Fi.”
Distance learning also means exposing your home, or lack thereof, to your classmates.
“So imagine this kid doing distance-learning and the other kids are asking, ‘where are you?’ It looks like you’re in a car. For a kid that would make you not want to go to school.”
The supplies students need this year have also changed.
“Headphones are critical, again for kids living in shelters. You can imagine 20 to 25 different kids all listening to webinars, listening to instruction by their teacher. I mean it’s almost virtually impossible.”
While schools are providing tablets and WiFi for students, Evans says when you’re homeless, that’s not enough.
“We just supplied a car charger for a family that’s living in a car because you don’t have a wall outlet to plug your Chrome Book into so when it dies it dies.”
LA Unified says it recognizes tutoring is essential for students most in need.
“It will be by appointment at schools, after school and on Saturdays and it will be online again not conflicting with the school day but to support the school day because we know extra support is needed,” said Austin Beutner, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
School on Wheels is still in need of donations for their online school supply drive. Starting at $15, a backpack filled with supplies will be delivered directly to a student living in a shelter.