School on Wheels sees spike in homeless enrollment

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Enrollment is skyrocketing at School on Wheels, a homeless student tutoring group in Indianapolis.

Tutors estimate the city now has 5,000 children without a secure place to go after school, and say enrollment in their program has increased 40 percent since last year. 

The group, founded in 2001 by school social worker Sally Bindley, now serves around 400 students. Tutors come armed with books and art and provide one-on-one attention to K-12 homeless children at school or inside homeless shelters. 

“We go to the homeless kids where they are and help them with what they need to be successful in school,” said Bindley. “That’s backpacks, that’s school supplies, that’s one-on-one tutoring, that’s parent workshops.”

School on Wheels identifies homeless students with help from its 15 shelter partners, including Wheeler Mission, The Julian Center, and the Salvation Army. The students who attend live in homeless shelters, cars, motels, or double up with other families, according to tutors. 

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“If you’re uprooted, you don’t get to take the things with you every time. You don’t get to take your books with you, or your pencils with you, or your crayons, and don’t have those things at home you can practice with,” said Kathy Sahm, a tutor with Schools on Wheels. 

Sahm is also a retired IPS teacher and said she noticed a difference in her students when School on Wheels began supplementing their education. 

“The students that I had were never absent on the days they had their tutors with School on Wheels,” Sahm said. “It made them feel like there’s someone special that’s consistent in their life; this is a place that’s consistent in their life which gives them security.”

Unfortunately, School on Wheels has now hit a milestone. 

“The need has grown exponentially,” Bindley said, standing outside a borrowed tutoring classroom at Urban Act IPS Charter School. “The location where we are right now has tripled in enrollment since last year so the need is great, and the more volunteers we have and the more funding we have, the more kids we can reach.”

School on Wheels just wrapped a month-long campaign called “Share the Love” where volunteers shared stories and the organization raised more than $40,400, passing their goal of $36,000. 

Visit the School on Wheels website to volunteer, donate, and learn more about the program.