By leveraging partnerships throughout the city, WITS provided many surprises and fun activities for our students this past month. Through the energy of our volunteers and the trust built by serving as mentors this school year, WITS was able to bring students out of their schools to explore libraries, gardens, and corporate offices. These celebrations culminate with each WITS student being given five brand new WITSummer Books to add to their at-home libraries. Read ahead to learn more about why we believe that summer reading is important, the partnerships that allow us to have programming, and what has been happening this past month at WITS!
Since its inception during the 2013-2014 school year, the Workplace Mentoring program at CME Group has been one of the largest in the WITS portfolio, in both volunteer and student participation. Each Wednesday, more than 30 students from Washington Irving Elementary travel from the Tri-Taylor neighborhood to CME Group’s offices to read and complete homework with the help of a volunteer mentor.
Community-Building. That has been the main focus at Genevieve Melody STEM Elementary this school year. Located in the West Garfield Park neighborhood, Melody aims to provide safe, stable, and supportive learning environments for students. To achieve this goal, Melody has made an effort to increase the breadth of its educational partnerships with local Chicago organizations. This, in turn, has led to alternative ways of teaching and learning. When walking the halls at Melody, one is greeted by rhythmic sounds of drum circles led by local college students, sing-alongs to popular music to identify parts of speech, and number-counting taught through hop-scotch. These are just a few of the alternative ways Melody is reinventing what it means to teach and learn as they continue to advance their community-building.
On Tuesday mornings, volunteers from Aon travel to Chicago’s South Side to read aloud with their students at Mays Academy. Since 2009, Aon has partnered with WITS through the Mid-Day Mentoring program. Often excited and eager to meet with their reading mentors, Aon volunteers are greeted each week by a group of 18 third grade students with a lot of personality. Whether sharing an adventure with Nate the Great, learning about volcanoes, writing poetry, or showing off a new choreographed dance, Aon mentors provide students with structured developmental experiences and the space to learn while being themselves.
Paul Callero, an Associate Director at Aon Benfield and WITS Associate’s Board member, has volunteered in the Mid-Day Mentoring program for the past four years. Paul shared some of his experiences about being involved with WITS and why volunteerism is important to him.
Since 2004, Talcott Fine Arts & Museum Academy has been a partner of WITS. Located in West Town, the school serves 528 students from Pre-K to eighth grade. For 12 years, WITS has entered Talcott’s doors providing early childhood summer programs, kindergarten programs, mid-day mentoring, and after-school programs. Every Thursday, four of our community volunteers head over to the school’s library on the third floor of the building to read with their individually-assigned kindergarten buddies. The library is a prime space for WITS students to work on their reading skills. It is a comfortable site composed of glossy-wooden flooring and royal yellow walls that extend along shelves of endless literature. It’s a radiant space with several tall windows that captivate the outskirts of the city while expelling subtle rays of sunlight into every corner of the room.
I initially started on the Board of Directors for Boundless Readers (BR) eight years ago. I joined BR because the mission was to help CPS teachers teach the love of reading to their students. We did this by providing leading-edge professional development for the teachers who were awarded the Rochelle Lee Teacher Awards. Then the students would receive an in-class library, from which they could take out books year-round. There is probably no better day each year for me than the day that those books are delivered to the classroom!
Snow in April couldn’t stop 60 CPS students and 30 WITS volunteers from visiting the Lincoln Park Zoo during a recent WITS on the Weekend field trip. Well-bundled and chatting excitedly, they explored Chicago’s free zoo for two hours, snapping photos, hunting for baby animals, and taking notes in their “field guides.” For these students, what could have been a morning spent playing video games on the couch was instead an opportunity to explore their city and learn about their world.
Since 2001, Morgan Stanley has been a committed partner with WITS. Powered by the volunteerism of over 70 new and veteran mentors, Morgan Stanley serves 30 students in fourth through sixth grade. To provide the most opportunity for their employees to spread the love of reading with students, Morgan Stanley maximizes their impact in Chicago by hosting the Workplace Mentoring program at two of their office branches. Each week, students from Otis and McClellan Elementary Schools are welcomed downtown to share stories, complete homework, and develop proficiency as readers.