7 Books We’ve Been Caught Reading

7 Books We’ve Been Caught Reading

Posted May 27th, 2015 by Claire with No Comments

May is Get Caught Reading month – a month designed to remind people of all ages how much fun it is to read. In celebration, we asked our staff about a book they had recently finished that made an impact on them. If you are looking to get caught up in a good book, we have some recommendations for you!


Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore is the true story of an unlikely friendship that develops between an international art dealer and a homeless man. Ron Hall is living the dream, travelling the world and enjoying his wealth and prestige. Denver Moore is a former sharecropper who has endured a lifetime of hardships. The two meet in a shelter where Ron is reluctantly serving meals at the request of his wife. The story is told alternating chapters between the two men. It is a heartwarming tale of how two people from entirely different worlds can come together and learn from each other. There are many takeaways from this inspirational story. One point that really hit home for me is when Denver discusses the volunteers at the shelter and says you can tell by the way they look at you if they care about you or feel sorry for you. The School on Wheels staff and volunteers really care and the families we work with can see that from day one. – Sally Bindley, Founder & CEO

Wonder by R.J. Palacio takes you through Auggie Pullman’s first year in mainstream school – 5th grade at Beecher Prep. He’s not only the new kid, but the new kid who gets noticed for the wrong reasons because he happens to have been born with a facial deformity. The book takes you on Auggie’s journey of navigating a new experience and new friendships, and is told from many people’s perspectives. I loved everything about this book, but especially Auggie. – Claire Brosman, Grants & Communications Manager

I recently read (or listened to the audio book of) Just Kids by Patti Smith. She wrote about her childhood, becoming interested in art, moving to New York, meeting her best friend Robert Mapplethorpe, and their life and adventures together. It was amazing, especially to listen to it narrated by Patti Smith herself. Her own accent and tone made such a big difference in hearing those words correctly. Usually I love to sit down and read a book because sometimes I read a little faster than the narrator does in an audio book, but I just wanted to slowly drink up every word of this book. – Erin Brown, Program Manager

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss because it carefully and artfully looks at our inner drive to succeed at all costs and then puts the burden of taking care of the world and others on each and every one of us.  My daughter and I were watching the news about the Dr. Seuss hat exhibit at the Fashion Mall, and we both blurted out, “The Lorax,” when the reporter mentioned we all have Dr. Seuss favorites.  I love the bond that Dr. Seuss brought to and shared with so many people, and I treasure that my daughter, who so hated school and reading, actually loved Dr. Seuss books. Also, Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott. This is a non-fiction book that helps you to analyze what you need to talk about and with whom you need to talk about those important things, whether those conversations are with others or just yourself. I suppose it falls under the self-help, self-analysis field in which frank conversations make for more meaningful relationships and more powerful lives. At least that is the hope! – Tonia Carriger, Program Coordinator

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan is a collection of short stories and essays written during Marina’s time at Yale University. When she graduated in 2012, she had a play that was to be produced at the New York International Fringe Festival and a job waiting for her at the New Yorker. Tragically, five days after graduation, Marina died in a car crash. It’s strange to read her words as a contemporary with similar views on the future, opportunity, and time. It’s eerie to know she’s gone, but she’s also not gone. She left a big mark in a small amount of time by ferociously following her passions, and that’s not eerie at all. – Sarah Matlock, Project Manager

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Klein is a historical fiction novel about a piece of American history that was previously unknown to me. It tells the story of Vivian, a young Irish immigrant girl living in New York City. She lost her parents to an apartment fire and was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children to find new homes. The story is heartbreaking, unimaginable, and hopeful. It shows the resilience of children and the power of simple kindness shown by a caring adult. – Karen Routt, Director of Programs

Thanks to all our staff members who shared what they’ve been caught reading. We’d love to hear what you’ve been caught reading this month, too – leave us a comment below!

Meet the Staff: Shalyn Getz

Posted May 20th, 2015 by Sarah 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 Shalyn Getz, our Program and Communications Specialist. Although some people haven’t met Shalyn, many people recognize her name because she sends out Chalk Talk, our monthly enewsletter. Read on to learn more about her, how she balances working on both the program and communications sides of School on Wheels and her Friday lunchtime program!

headshot     shalyn3     shalyn1 

What is your role at School on Wheels?
I do so many different things! As the Program and Communications Specialist, I split my time between programs, where I design curriculum for the iPads and Tutor Toolkits, and communications, where I manage our social media, website and email communications. If you don’t like/follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, you should! I am also the Program Coordinator for the STAR (Striving Towards Academic Readiness) lunchtime program for kindergarten and first grade students at IPS 54.

What did you do before you came here?
I was in college – I studied religion and sociology at Middlebury College in Vermont. I also worked in a childcare center, which is where I found out that I love working with young kids!

Why did you decide to join the School on Wheels team?
When I was in college, I completed a Summer VISTA term at an organization called Chicago HOPES, which provides tutoring services to students living in Chicago-area homeless shelters. Working at Chicago HOPES was a fantastic experience that helped me realize what I’m truly passionate about – leveling the playing field and making sure each student has a quality education. As I was applying for VISTA after college, I saw a position open at School on Wheels, talked to some of the staff, and knew it would be a great fit for what I wanted to do.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?
I love working with the kids at ALL of our different locations and watching them grow – especially my STAR kids. It has been a great experience to have some of my students start the program last year in kindergarten and watch them grow as people and as students this year in first grade. They’ve come so far in such a short time! I also love being part of our communications team here at School on Wheels. Spreading the word about our programs and sharing stories about the individual successes of our students is one of my favorite things to do.

Can you share one of your favorite tutoring stories?love
Even though I’ve been working at School on Wheels for four years, I think one of my all-time favorite moments at tutoring happened this year. I feel like I tell this story to everyone. One of first graders, a very quiet, reserved little girl in the STAR program, came up to me when I went to pick up the kids in their classrooms and gave me a card that read, “You make me want to go to school. I love you.” It made me want to cry, but at the same time, it reaffirmed for me why the relationships that we build with children in our programs are so important. They are going through so much, and being a constant person that they know will show up every week gives them a bit of stability.

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to know about you?
I have a HUGE sweet tooth! It’s so bad. Sometimes, all I want to eat is ice cream and cookies. I have to restrain myself because I really am a healthy person!

What is the biggest project you are working on right now for School on Wheels?
Well, I have a few big things going on right now. On the program side, I am wrapping up the second year of our STAR lunchtime program.  It’s been such a great year – the tutors at IPS 54 have worked so hard to create relationships with our students and help provide them stability. And next year, we’re expanding the program to second grade! It’s all very exciting. Over the summer, I will also be working on creating new videos in our Tutor Tips series, including some brand new videos covering some of the most popular iPad apps at tutoring! On the communications side, we are getting a brand new website that will help us better communicate about our programs and homelessness in general. I am really excited about it!

Can’t wait until next month to learn more about our staff? Check out our other Meet the Staff blog posts here!

The Homestretch Documentary: Reflections

Posted May 13th, 2015 by Shalyn with No Comments

If you haven’t had a chance to watch it yet, The Homestretch is a documentary film that follows the journeys of three homeless teenagers in Chicago – Roque, Kasey and Anthony. It shows their struggles and challenges as they fight to stay in school, graduate and build a future, all without a stable place to stay at night. Many of our staff members have had a chance to view the film and we found it to be a powerful window into the lives of students experiencing homelessness. Below are some of our reflections:

The Homestretch

“What struck me most about The Homestretch was Roque’s story. Each kid they focused on had another layer of difficulty in their life (anti-LGBT views, abuse, foster system) and in Roque’s case it was being an undocumented student. You begin to realize how hard it would be to really pull yourself out of that situation without being surrounded by people willing to help pull you out. Luckily he had that in his teacher. I can imagine that most homeless teenagers do NOT have that kind of support. And even with the help he had, he still found it very difficult to navigate the system. It was heartbreaking but inspiring.

I also was struck at some of the amazing help that IS out there for kids in Chicago. One of the students was able to graduate from a program in a year and get a job in IT. I hope there is a follow up story on these kids one day.” – Erin Brown, Program Manager

The Homestretch documentary was fantastic because it really humanized the issue of homelessness, and particularly youth homelessness. Sometimes people believe that teenagers who end up homeless have simply run away from home without cause; we’re not often given a glimpse into the actual situations that cause a teenager to leave home. The film, however, did a fantastic job in showing the outside factors (immigration, LGBTQ rights, foster care and abuse, mental illness, family relationships) that all play a role in the often complicated situations that lead a student to leave home.

My hope is that watching the film and getting a glimpse into the lives of the students featured – Roque, Kasey and Anthony – helps to break down the stereotypes that people hold about students who are experiencing homelessness. These three kids are great examples of fantastic young people who are headed for success!” – Shalyn Getz, Program & Communications Specialist

“The Homestretch Documentary is an eye opening look into the true struggles that many children and families in our country/communities face on a daily basis. There are two main points in this film that really resonated with me and my experiences in working with children and families experiencing homelessness. The first is that no two families or individuals have similar stories. All three of the teenagers in this film were in their situations for different reasons, many completely out of their control. There is a misconception regarding homelessness and what it actually looks like. The Homestretch shed light on the complex nature of homelessness. The second is all of the amazing and caring people who helped each teenager along their journey. From the homeless shelter, teachers and social workers each played a key role in helping the teenagers survive and change their life story for the better!

I see many inspiring, caring and dedicated members of our community working with children who are facing homelessness in our city. Each and every one of them makes an impact and that, to me, is the most important part.” – Samantha Breeling, Volunteer Coordinator

If you did not have the chance to watch the original broadcast of The Homestretch, you still have a chance! The documentary is streaming online until tomorrow, May 14 – click here to view the film. We hope that you will watch the film if you haven’t already, and that you will join us in this important conversation about youth homelessness by spreading the word to your family and friends! Feel free to leave a comment with your reflections below.

Creating a Group Work of Art

Posted May 6th, 2015 by Shalyn with No Comments

Last month, we held our Annual Fundraiser – the Education Celebration, which was a resounding success. One focus area over the last few years has been integrating art curriculum into tutoring, and this year at the event we wanted to show that side of our program to attendees. To make this possible, our event planning team approached Kris, our Program Assistant and MartH Program Coordinator, and asked her to put together a group project that involved the kids at each of our partner locations. Below, Kris shares a little bit about the experience of creating the group piece:

Original Art created by MartH students

Our event planning team approached me to do a project with our kids for the Education Celebration similar to a math and art project I had done in our MartH program. The MartH project was based off of the work of Piet Mondrian, whose work includes many paintings that feature right angles and primary colors. During MartH, the students created right, acute and obtuse angles on a canvas using tape, and painted the exposed areas with primary colors (learn more about the original project here and check out the example above!). Our entire staff loved what the kids created so much, that they wanted to create a larger piece to be featured at the Education Celebration based on the same concept.

The project we created for the kids to complete during tutoring was similar to the original MartH project, but instead of each student creating their own piece, the kids at each location worked together to complete one canvas. We purchased fifteen canvases to represent our fifteen programs (including both STAR programs and the MartH program). All fifteen canvases were laid out in a grid pattern and I taped off quadrants on each canvas so that they created one overall piece, but could also work as individual pieces of art.

Members of our program team took the canvases to each site and worked with each student to complete one quadrant of the canvas. The students each chose a color, painted their quadrant, then created designs on their canvas while the paint was still wet. The kids were excited to paint and make their ‘mark’ on the canvases. There was so much creativity in what the kids created – designs ranged from a cobra by a 1st grader to a famous quote by a 12th grader. It was so cool to see all the various designs and energy put into each canvas. Each site came back with something unique and different, but once we pulled the tape off and put all fifteen canvasses together, it created something even more special – a complete work of art created by all our students.

The completed work of art was a hit at the Education Celebration. A huge thank you to Kris and all of our students for making this unique work of art possible!

The completed work of art Get your set of cards today!

Additionally, even if you weren’t able to see the work for yourself at the Education Celebration, you haven’t missed out! The piece was so beautiful, we created a set of 15 cards based on the art that showcases each of the unique students and partners we serve. These card sets are available just in time for Mother’s Day – and today is your LAST CHANCE to purchase them to receive them by Sunday!

Click here to make a donation in honor of Mother’s Day and get your pack of cards today!

Meet the Staff: Asia Reynolds

Posted April 29th, 2015 by Sarah 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 Asia Reynolds, one of our Program Coordinators who manages tutoring each night at our partner locations. This year, she has been overseeing tutoring at our two new school sites in Washington Township and has some great results and insights to share about the school expansion program – read on to learn more!

Asia Reynolds   asia3   Asia Reynolds

Where do you PC? 
I am the Program Coordinator at Wellspring Cottage, Greenbriar Elementary and Foxhill Elementary.

What did you do before you came here? 
Before I started at School on Wheels, I had recently graduated from the University of Indianapolis. I had also been a Program Specialist for Girls Inc. of Greater Indianapolis for about three years.

Why did you decide to join the School on Wheels team? 
I was (and still am) eager and determined to make a difference in the lives of students facing homelessness. I am a huge advocate for children facing adversity and I was certain that School on Wheels would be a wonderful opportunity for me to make an impact on this population of youth.

What’s your favorite thing about your job?  
The fact that I can wake up every morning knowing and believing in my heart that a student needs me to be his or her voice. To know that I am not only guiding students towards academic success but that I am teaching them valuable life skills along the way humbles me and brings me great joy!

Can you share one of your favorite tutoring stories? 
One day as I was wrapping up the tutoring session, a kindergartener started to frown when I announced that it was time to line up to board the buses. Seeing disappointment in his face, I walked over to him and asked why he was so sad. He said that he was not ready to leave tutoring and even though he loved his family very much, School on Wheels was also his family. This melted my heart as I realized that for so many of our children, seeing the familiar faces of the tutors each week and the encouragement that they receive from tutoring means so much to them!

What’s one thing that people would be surprised to know about you? 
People would be surprised to know that I tend to get nervous speaking to large groups of people. I am also a huge LeBron James fan!!!

Can you share some highlights / stories from the recent School on Wheels school expansion to Greenbriar and Fox Hill Elementary Schools?
For me, a huge highlight from the program expansion has been the praise that School on Wheels has received from the parents of students at our two new schools. These parents feel so much support from our staff and appreciate every workshop and positive phone call made to them regarding the amazing progress in their children’s academics. They feel more confident speaking to teachers and other school personnel due to the successful parent workshops we’ve held this year.

Another highlight has been the progress that many of the students have made since the beginning of the school year. A lot of this has to do with the positive praise and support that they receive weekly from their tutors. I can really see a confidence boost in many of the students who previously felt discouraged because of their academic performance. The recent school expansion has been a positive experience for students, parents, and many tutors!

We’ve had so many successes in our school expansion so far this year!

  • We have served a total of 36 students between both Greenbriar and Fox Hill Elementary Schools.
  • We have logged a total of 189 Ignite Learning consultations between both schools which includes in-take meetings, communication with teachers and parents, and parent/family workshops.
  • 92% of our students at Greenbriar Elementary have maintained a C- or better or improved in two subject areas from quarter 2 to quarter 3.

Interested in learning more about our school expansion and hidden homeless initiative? Click here to learn more.