When you think of people experiencing homelessness, it is often the image of an adult begging on the street that comes to mind. Rarely do we see the faces of the 5,000 Marion County children who are affected by homelessness annually.
Sally Bindley recognized a need in the Indianapolis community 17 years ago when she founded School on Wheels. She was working as a school social worker and noticed a lack of educational resources provided to children experiencing homelessness. With the help of her mother, her best friend, and her best friend’s mother, Bindley began tutoring children in homeless shelters. What originated as a tutoring club has grown into an organization supported by a staff of 21 employees and more than 400 volunteers annually.
Bindley explains to Indy’s Child how supporting this overlooked population can help stop the cycle of poverty and homelessness, and ensure the future successes of children.
What is School on Wheels?
We provide one-on-one tutoring and academic support to children and families who are currently or formerly experiencing homelessness. Our team of 400 volunteers meet in school or shelter-based tutoring programs for one hour each week. The children we serve attend more than 100 different schools in Indianapolis, so it’s likely that your children attend school with a School on Wheels student.
It is our goal to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness, and we do that through education. We believe kids who are educated now have opportunities and doors opened to them that would otherwise be closed. One of the root causes of homelessness is a lack of education. We want to prevent our kids who are experiencing homeless today from repeating that cycle tomorrow.
Why is academic support important for children experiencing homelessness?
Homelessness impacts children in a variety of ways. They have increased school absences, and depending on where they are residing, they may not have an adequate place to do homework. They may be suffering from emotional trauma related to the cause of homelessness. Children also change schools an average of three times while homeless, and it can take six months to recover academically with each move.
Children experiencing homelessness are between six to nine times more likely to repeat a grade, often leading to dropping out of school. Dropouts are at an increased risk of homelessness as adults. But 98 percent of children receiving support from School on Wheels are promoted to the next grade.
How can the community help?
We are always looking for volunteers who care about kids and care about their future. You don’t need a degree in education or a specific field to be a tutor. In fact, kids as young as 11 can tutor with a parent. The relationships that develop between the tutors and our families are powerful. We see kids running in to hug their tutors. I watched a mom interrupt a tutoring session to celebrate her kid getting a report card with straight As. That child got a standing ovation; it was incredibly motivating.If you can’t tutor, donations help us fund school uniforms, supplies, transportation and food. We even have kids who donate their birthday parties to support School on Wheels.
I want people to know that there are kids experiencing homelessness with caring parents, and we just need to level the playing field for them. The more that we talk about the fact that these kids and School on Wheels exists, the less likely it is that people will only see homelessness as that panhandler on the street.
Learn more about School on Wheels by calling 317-202-9100, or visit https://indyschoolonwheels.org