Aster Bekele: Catalyst for Change

Aster Bekele: Catalyst for Change

Posted August 20th, 2014 by Laura with No Comments

2014 marked the second year that School on Wheels awarded an outstanding educator with the Education Champion award. The Education Champion award recognizes an individual who has devoted his or her time, expertise and focus in supporting youth and championing education.  Both traditional and non traditional educators with more than five years experience directly working with youth in the state of Indiana can be nominated for this annual award.


This year, Aster Bekele, Founder and Executive Director of the Felege Hiywot Center in the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood, took home the award. Aster, originally from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, moved to the United States in 1974 and later pursued a chemistry degree at IUPUI. Following graduation she began her career as a chemist at Eli Lilly & Co. which spanned a total of 27 years.

I first became aware of Aster and the work she was doing back in 2004 through many neighborhood and community council meetings. Sitting in meeting after meeting, I heard about this woman that as many put it, “walked the walk.” I was told she was teaching youth living in poverty about their community and the beauty that he or she could create through one simple seed. Aster wasn’t an outsider to this community. She lived in the neighborhood and was surrounded by the same poverty, violence and crime. The difference was she could converse with her young neighbors about a different level of poverty, coming from Ethiopia where famine and starvation was a reality. She changed their messaging or thoughts of themselves as underprivileged to being fortunate compared to Ethiopian children.

Later on I had the opportunity to work alongside Aster on an initiative that would bring artistic experiences to her students during a summer camp. Through several partner meetings I learned exactly what our judges reviewing the numerous Education Champion nominations picked up on right away. Aster was not your traditional educator, she was not trained to teach but she has the natural ability to engage youth. As she puts it, “It is one thing to get youth involved, another to get them engaged. I feel getting them engaged is providing independence to learn by experience. The driving force of a sustainable community starts with youth engaged in planning, execution and learning from their experience.” This belief led to what is now a youth-led farm that helps feed the Martindale-Brightwood community.

While Aster is teaching her students about science, nature, food and culture she is also helping them understand how to provide for themselves and their family, give back to their community and maybe one of the most important messages of all; we all have the ability to change our landscape both mentally and physically.

The Felege Hiywot Center teaches gardening skills to urban youth of Indianapolis. The goal is for each youth participant to develop gardening skills, an awareness of nature, a commitment to environmental preservation, and an ability to make nutritious food a reality. It also connects youth to a different type of poverty by shedding light on the hardships children and their families experience in Ethiopia on a daily basis.

Know a fantastic educator like Aster? Learn more about our Education Champion Award and look for nominations to open in Spring 2015!

Reflections: Jefferson Award

Posted August 13th, 2014 by Sally with No Comments

In 1972, when I was just two years old, First Lady Jackie Kennedy established the Jefferson Awards as a Nobel Prize for public and community service. 42 years later, the Jefferson Awards is celebrated as “the most prestigious prize for public service in America.” In June, I was honored to represent my fellow Hoosiers at the national ceremonies in Washington DC thanks to the generous support and endorsement from local Jefferson Awards media partner WRTV. In a whirlwind three days, my husband and I were treated to receptions, speeches, presentations and personal visits with our US Senators. We met the 42 other Jefferson Award winners from around the country and heard their stories. Marine Corporal Josh Bleill, Indianapolis Colts Community Spokesperson, kicked off the impact breakfast with his personal story of loss, perseverance, determination and hope. The event culminated in a black tie gala dinner that honored and celebrated all of us winners.

The Jefferson Awards National Ceremonies was one of the single best experiences I have had in my professional career. At every turn I heard stories that were humbling and inspiring. And I kept asking myself how I ended up there. I’m just a gal who goes to work every day like everyone else.  In a world where we can be deluged with stories of sadness, poverty, prejudice, heartache, crime, and apathy, it was nice to spend the better part of a week meeting people that are fighting for injustice every day and creating positive change across the globe.

While the Jefferson Awards celebrated and validated the work that we do, above all, it gave me hope. Hope that unmet needs are being addressed every day. Hope for the families I work with at School on Wheels. Hope that young philanthropists of today will create a tomorrow that is safer, stronger and better. For all of you who have been with me on this journey, thank you so much. I hope I represented you well.

Sally's Signature

Staff Updates

Posted August 6th, 2014 by Shalyn with No Comments

This summer has flown by at School on Wheels! In addition to running our It’s a WRAP! (Writing, Reading, Art, and Performance) summer program, our staff has been hard at work preparing for the coming school year and the start of tutoring at the end of August. All in the midst of adapting to some exciting changes in our staff here at School on Wheels!

Over the coming months, we will be posting a “Meet the Staff” series every month to help you become more familiar with our office staff and Program Coordinators out in the field. To kick off this series, we thought we’d share with you the staff changes and new members of our program team.

PCsFirst of all, we want to offer a warm welcome to the two newest members of the School on Wheels family, Tonia Carriger and Ana Luis, our newest Program Coordinators. Tonia has been a long-time School on Wheels tutor and was most recently the recipient of our 2014 Tutor of the Year Award. Besides working as the new Julian Center Program Coordinator, Tonia also works as the Director of Business at the Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration.  During the day, Ana teachers algebra at the Excel Center for adult learners and has helped 100% of her students pass the End of Course assessment in algebra.  She will be joining us as the Program Coordinator at Dayspring and Wheeler.  Please join us in offering a warm welcome to both Tonia and Ana!

In addition to our new Program Coordinators, we have had many current program staff take on new roles within our organization. Laura Alvarado, who used to serve as our Director of Programs and Partnerships, is now the Vice President of Programs and Community Outreach.  In her new role, she serves as the Co-Chair of the Indianapolis Continuum of Care: Housing and Intervention & Prevention Committee, will work closely with our new Hidden Homeless pilot at local schools and will continue to work to find creative ways to engage community partners in our mission.

program1Karen Routt, who used to oversee Program Coordinators and tutoring as our Program Manager, has taken on the role of the Director of Programs and will manage all aspects of our programs and evaluation. Erin Brown, the former Dayspring and Julian Center Program Coordinator, has taken over the role of Program Manager, and will be working closely with the Program Coordinators and overseeing tutoring at all locations.

Congratulations to Laura, Karen, and Erin on your new roles! We are very happy to share these exciting changes with you.  Look out for our new “Meet the Staff” series starting next month to learn more about each of these awesome ladies and the rest of our staff!

Can’t wait until next month? Want to learn the basics about our team now? Check out our Staff page!

SPOKES #FallforSOW Drive

Posted July 29th, 2014 by Claire with No Comments

Back to school is an exciting, yet scary time for lots of children. Maybe you remember the anticipation that surrounded going back to school? If you were anything like me, in addition to wondering about your classes, teachers and potential new friends, you’d spend hours making sure to find the right clothing, the right backpack and even the right notebooks that would help you fit in. Well, things haven’t changed and that anticipation still abounds for children going back to school. But consider how that anticipation can turn to dread when a child doesn’t have the resources to get new uniforms that fit, a functioning backpack or even the right supplies.

Spokes: A School on Wheels Outreach CommunityThat’s where School on Wheels’ young professional’s committee SPOKES steps in. This fall they’ve arranged the #FallForSOW drive that pits corporation against corporation in the spirit of helping the children in our city who need it the most. SPOKES has recruited a number of Indianapolis businesses who will be rallying their employees to purchase backpacks and gift cards that will support the purchase of uniforms and school supplies for School on Wheels students. This drive will run from August 1 to September 30, 2014. Over the course of these two months, participating corporations will be posting their progress on Twitter and Facebook. The company that collects the most supplies for our students wins! But more than prizes and awards, every organization that participates is making a huge impact on the lives of the children we serve.

We already have a number of great companies on board for our drive, #FallForSOW including:

Please be sure to follow and support these companies on social media, as well as School on Wheels on Facebook and twitter so you can watch as the donations pour in!

If you work for an Indianapolis business and would like to participate in this drive, contact Claire Brosman at School on Wheels, or 317.202.9100.

School Expansion

Posted July 22nd, 2014 by Claire with No Comments

We are very excited to announce that School on Wheels has received a two-year $80,000 grant from Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust that will launch our Hidden Homeless pilot in schools. This initiative will bring School on Wheels’ one-on-one tutoring to three new schools throughout Indianapolis by 2016, and will target children living in transition outside the shelter system. Families who are living in transition are those who lack a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence.

This funding comes at a time during which student homelessness across Indiana is at a record high, according to the latest data from the Indiana Department of Education. The Indy Star recently highlighted the growth of homelessness among Indiana students in Vic Ryckaert’s article, “Homelessness Exploding in Suburban Schools.” While homelessness is surging across Indiana, Marion County has seen the largest increase. According to the Indiana Department of Education, 5,233 students were homeless in 2013, a 69% increase from the 2006-07 school year.

We are thrilled to be able to introduce a program that serves to directly meet the expanding needs of children experiencing homelessness in Indianapolis. Already we are seeing great results! During the fall semester of the 2013/2014 school year, we introduced STAR (Striving Toward Academic Readiness) at IPS #54 as the first phase of our Hidden Homeless Initiative. Our staff worked in collaboration with IPS #54’s administration, teachers and social workers to create targeted lesson plans that address the individual needs of the selected student population.

Below are just a few of the successes 13 kindergarteners in the program demonstrated during the 2013/2014 school year!

  • 92% of students know all 26 upper and lower case letters.
  • 100% of students had a grade-appropriate ability to distinguish letters, words, and sentences.
  • 92% of students improved or stayed the same in their ability to count a number of objects (1:1 correspondence).
  • 100% of students improved or stayed the same in their ability to share and take turns.
  • 92% of students improved or stayed the same in their ability to follow directions.

We’re happy to announce that the first year of the STAR program at IPS #54 had such great results that we’ll be offering STAR to both kindergarten and 1st grade students at IPS #54 during the 2014/2015 school year! If you are interested in volunteering for this lunchtime tutoring program or in our after school tutoring program at Greenbriar Elementary as part of our hidden homeless initiative, please contact Samantha Breeling, our Volunteer Coordinator, by email or by calling our office at 317-202-9100.

Need more information about our programs and volunteer opportunities? Learn more about our lunchtime and after school programs and check out our tutoring schedule!