Meet the Staff: Amber Ewing

Meet the Staff: Amber Ewing

Posted September 17th, 2014 by Shalyn with No Comments

Each month, we’ll be introducing you to a new School on Wheels staff member so you can learn more about the people who make our programs run successfully! This month, we’ll highlight Amber Ewing, the newest addition to our School on Wheels family. We’re so happy to have her – and we hope you’re excited to meet her!

Amber      Amber   Amber

Amber, what’s your role at School on Wheels?
I’m the Director of Development.

What did you do before you came here?
My entire career has been in development – fourteen years at United Way of Central Indiana prior to coming to School on Wheels. Though my role changed quite a bit while I was there, the gist of what I did was to help local companies with their fundraising campaigns, coordinate trainings and events, and get donors and companies more involved in giving back to our community.

Why did you decide to join the School on Wheels team?
Once I started learning more about the organization and had a chance to meet Sally, I knew this was the right fit! Helping children impacted by homelessness and working to break the cycle of poverty are both critically important in the Indianapolis community.

What are you most excited about in your new position?
I’m excited to help the organization achieve and exceed the fundraising goals for the year and to begin to work on long term goals to assure that School on Wheels can continue to provide this essential programming. I’m also looking forward to participating in the tutoring program and seeing firsthand the great work that is being done.

What’s your favorite thing about your job so far?
The people! I’m beginning to think that happiness seeps through the bright orange walls in this office! Everyone who comes into this office is amazing – staff and volunteers alike.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?
I have a slight addiction to gummy bears (specifically Haribo Gold-Bear) but don’t eat the green ones.

Want to learn more about our School on Wheels staff members? Check out our Staff page or our other Meet the Staff blog posts!

11 of Our Favorite Children’s Books!

Posted September 11th, 2014 by Shalyn with No Comments

Earlier this week was International Literacy Day and it’s also National Literacy Month – one of our favorite months of the year! Reading is something that we are very passionate about here at School on Wheels and we strive to share a love for literacy with our students every night during tutoring. We hope you love reading too! To help us celebrate this month, our staff and tutors have compiled a list of some of their favorite children’s books that they’d love to share with you:

there's a wocket say cheese and die where the sidewalk ends

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan: This was my favorite book as a child because it was about someone named Sarah and she was tall. It was about a family living in the frontier out West and the mom had died, so the dad brings home a new wife, Sarah. The children dislike her at first, because she’s plain and tall, but by the end they love her very much. Classic tale of acceptance, understanding, family, and growth. ….but mostly, her name was Sarah and she was tall, like me. – Sarah, Project Manager

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein: Who doesn’t love funny poems about what happens when you don’t take the trash out? I read it to my kids! – Sally, Founder & CEO

The Boxcar Children series by Gertrude Warner: I loved the adventures that they would take and always wished I could go with them. The beauty of reading is the fact that you can travel with them in your mind. Looking back today, I think I was drawn to them because they were always creative with what they had and they always made good of something that was a sad situation. – Melissa, Salvation Army Barton Center Tutor

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume: I loved this story about Peter and his wild, mischievous, hilarious little brother, Fudge.  I have a little sister who is quite funny herself, so I could relate to some of the situations in which Peter and Fudge found themselves.  I was so excited when my own children recently read this book.  They enjoyed it, as well! – Karen, Director of Programs

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Siverstein: I loved this book because it was clever, with often sing-song rhymes (Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me, too), with just enough touch of crude humor to amuse a kid.  I also loved the basic but often funny accompanying visuals.  There are poems that I still remember every line by heart that I could recite on command.  “Mama said I’d lose my head if it wasn’t fastened on…” – Erin, Program Manager

The Goosebumps Series by R. L. Stine: This was one of my favorite series growing up. I enjoyed the thrill they provided and at the time they were pretty scary.  My favorite from the series was Say Cheese and Die, where a kid finds a camera that produces photos of the person dying and then it came true. – Kurt, Wellspring Cottage Tutor

There’s a Wocket in my Pocket! by Dr. Seuss: My family and I just love the rhymes and the interesting names of the silly monsters hiding in the little boy’s house. – Laura, Vice President of Programs and Community Outreach

The Book of Giant Stories by David L. Harrison, illustrated by Philippe Fix: The stories were about Giants interacting with children, but the wonderful illustrations were what I remember most. They really fired up the imagination! – Greg, Wheeler Mission Center for Women and Children Tutor

The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series by Betty McDonald: I loved, loved, loved reading as a kid. During summer break, my mom would often have to force me to go outside when my nose was stuck in a book for too long. One of my many favorites, and I almost hesitate to name one because I leave others out, was the Mrs. Piggle Wiggle series. She was a lively widow who lived in an upside down house and loved children. Bewildered parents called on her for help with bad habits and she provided them with unusual cures for such behaviors such as ‘won’t pick up toys’ and ‘slow eater tiny bite taker.’ In the end, the children always found it much better to change their behavior  Kris, Program Assistant and MartH Coordinator

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Superfudge by Judy Blume: These were both books I read and reread throughout early elementary school. I wanted Peter Hatcher to come out of the pages and be my partner in crime and adventure. We had so much in common! He was so annoyed by his little brother and I was so annoyed by my little brother (and sister). He was reeling from the news of having to move and I was experiencing trauma of a recent long distance move like only and 8-year-old could. It was also one of the first books that made me dream about moving to New York City – or any city, really. Living among Indiana cornfields and later in the woods of Northern Minnesota never prepared me for the adventures that could happen in the city, but Peter’s environment fascinated me and made me dream a little bigger.  Claire, Grants and Communications Manager

Have You Filled A Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud: As a teacher, it is my responsibility to not only teach young minds but also create wonderful human beings. Have You Filled A Bucket Today? is a phenomenal resource filled with teachable moments. It’s a heartwarming book that encourages positive behavior inside the classroom and ultimately the world. The vivid illustrations and relatable text showcase how rewarding bucket filling is, and that by spreading kindness and love, you not only make others happy, you make YOU happy, too! It brings to our attention that every action and every word hold power to lift a person up, and it is our duty to bring that positive light into this world. Kid President once said, “If you can’t think of anything nice to say, you’re not thinking hard enough.” Each and every person is special; it is a bucket filler’s job to let them know. – Wesley, Salvation Army Barton Center Tutor

What’s YOUR favorite children book? Share with us by commenting below!

Want to support literacy for our students? Check out our wishlist to see our kids’ current book requests!

It’s a WRAP! on Summer

Posted September 3rd, 2014 by Claire with No Comments

Last week marked our return to tutoring! We spent all summer preparing to go back to school – engaging partners, recruiting and training new volunteers, updating curriculum and anticipating another hugely successful year. On top of all this preparation for the 2014/2015 school year, we also offered a month long summer enrichment program to the students at Salvation Army Barton Center.
summer books
It’s a WRAP! (Writing, Reading, Art and Performance) kicked off July 1st. Thanks to funding from Christel DeHaan Family Foundation, Lilly Endowment and the Sheila Fortune Foundation, we were able to offer a month of hands-on art and learning experiences for the children, grades K-12, living at Barton Center. This program helped combat summer learning loss, kept kids positively engaged and out of trouble, and on top of that it was a ton of fun!

It’s a WRAP! offered a creative learning environment where our kids got to create a diorama, an animated cartoon using the Toontastic app on the iPad and participate in a reader’s theatre facilitated by our project partner, Asante Children’s Theatre. Students were even able to learn about and play the African drums (check out a video here)! Each of these writing, art and performance activities stemmed from the African Folktales that served as the central theme of the program. Ages 5-7 read Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, ages 8-11 focused on Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain and ages 12 and up read The Princess Who Lost Her Hair: An Akamba Legend. Through the creation of art, cartoons and performance, each child came away with deeper critical thinking skills and reading comprehension, as well as increased confidence.

Check out some of the amazing things our kids created this summer.

Twenty children took part in this summer program with 100% of children reporting they enjoyed every aspect of this program and would like to participate again next summer. Our goal was that all the students would score at least an 80% on the comprehension assessment – and they did! Additionally, 89% of the students scored at least a 90% on the assessment and 40% of them got a perfect 100% of the questions correct! We love when our students get to have fun while improving their academic skills.

Thanks again to our funders and tutors who made this summer program possible!

Want to get more involved with tutoring and programs like It’s a WRAP!? Apply to tutor or sign up for our e-newsletter, Chalk Talk, to learn more about volunteering opportunities!

Tutor Tips to Kick off the Year!

Posted August 27th, 2014 by Shalyn with No Comments

I know it seems too soon, but we’re back to tutoring again! Monday was our first day back, and we’ve been so excited to meet our new kids and tutors! I know it hasn’t been too long since school ended, but check out our Tutor Tips video, Mental Math Addition Tricks, to brush up on your mental math skills so you can best help kids this school year!

Want more tips for tutoring? Check out our Tutor Resources!

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!