Category Archives: Program

An Interview with WITS Board of Directors Educators: Dr. Olimpia Bahena and Principal Sydney Golliday

Principal Golliday with Drake students at CBOE
Principal Golliday with Drake students at CBOE for the last day of the Workplace Mentoring Program.

Listening to the voices of educators and our partners in schools is critically important for WITS’ delivery of high-quality programs that drive students to the love of reading. Dr. Olimpia Bahena, Principal of Talcott Fine Arts and Museum Academy, and Sydney Golliday, Principal of John B. Drake Elementary School, are long-time partners of WITS. They recently expanded their support of WITS by contributing their educational expertise and role as advocates for students as new members of WITS’ Board of Directors. Below, Dr. Bahena and Principal Golliday share their paths and philosophies as educators, as well as how they maximize WITS support for their students.
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Teaching with WITS: Insight from Lead Summer Teacher and Rochelle Lee Awardee Rosalba Granados

WITS’ Eric Coleman sat down with Rosalba Granados to give us the inside scoop about her experience being a Early Childhood Summer Program Lead Teacher and Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardee. Ms. Granados has been the WITS lead teacher for the summer program for the last 3 years and teaches the Dual-Language Kindergarten program at Talcott Elementary. The WITS Early Childhood Summer Program occurs 4 days a week during July and August and includes  fairy tale read-alouds, practicing phonological awareness, and participating in robust reading, writing, sound, and play centers.

EC:  Why don’t you introduce yourself, including your school, grade, and number of years teaching? Then could you describe your role in WITS’ Early Childhood Summer Program?

RG:  I really enjoyed the summer program. I get to see how [the students] respond to literature, especially fairy tales, which are their favorites. I get to see how they engage in those texts. Throughout the summer, the students get exposed to many books. The students also have a mentor with them every single day, which is very beneficial for them because while they are reading books with their mentors, I hear the mentors guiding them and asking them questions. Some of the volunteers I heard acting out the story, living the story in their own little way.

Almost all of the students that you  work with in the summer are going to be your students in the school year. What is the benefit of meeting your students beforehand?

RG: Yeah, I get to know their personalities, and I already know who I may need to work with. Last year, we actually had a pair of twins and this year they are first graders. The growth in their language, through the WITS program, just having them talk about the book, you could see a huge difference.  They actually gave me the biggest insight, because I didn’t know their personalities until they came to the WITS program. When it came to September, I already knew that they needed to socially warm up to the environment. So the first day they were in a way like, “I know this is my space and I belong here.”

EC: You run the program in the exact same classroom that you then have the students in., and Talcott is one of our WITS Kindergarten locations. Do the same mentors work with your students?

RG: Yeah, some of the mentors who come during the summer actually decide to stay at Talcott because they love the children.

EC: What were some of your best memories as lead teacher of the WITS summer program?

RG: I loved when [the students] acted out the Three Billy Goats Gruff. Every time we finish reading a book, the students acted out the original fairy tale and to see them acting out the part with the ogre, saying “Who’s that tripping over my bridge?”  And everybody else is like “Oh my god!!!” when he falls off,  it’s like a dramatic slow fall. It’s the cutest thing ever. So I think that is one of my best memories. I really enjoyed the summer program, I can’t say enough great things about it.

EC:  This year you were a Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardee as well. What is your role in the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award program this year?

RG: Yes, this year I applied for the Rochelle Lee grant,  and I am an individual awardee. This is the first time I have ever done it, I had heard great things about it, so I thought, “why not do it?”

EC:  What differentiates the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award from other CPS PD programs?

One thing that really resonated was the being part of a book club. Reading the book  made me reflect as a reader. I think during the school year you do reflect, but you talk about articles or you talk about professional development books which sort of gets dry. We read “The Turner House” , and I thought about the cultural components [of the story] as I was reading – how can I expose my children to more different cultures and books and also encourage being reflective of their home environment?

The professional development re-affirmed a lot of what I was doing in my classroom. One presenter talked about conferencing with students, and I would ask, “Is this the right strategy?” When she presented, she was reaffirming: “I’m on the right track, this is what other colleagues are doing and it’s working for them.” One facilitator gave me some great feedback on how to structure students in small groups that I’m going to take to the classroom and fully implement.  Hearing others’ feedback really helped out a lot, especially when it’s a colleague presenting from CPS because we’re in the same boat. The presenters are excited to present their ideas as they are experts at it and they really know what they’re talking about. You have a catalog of sessions to choose from and you really zone in on what you want to work on versus what they tell you to work on.

EC: That is one of the key components of the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award.  We don’t want to tell teachers what sessions they should be doing because we don’t know their classroom as well as they do. 

RG: I think that’s huge, –the choice. You can create a PD, but if it’s not rich then it’s not beneficial. In some cases, you feel like you wasted 4 hours of your day and you go back to the classroom and think, “what exactly did I learn?” In the RLTA workshops though, I know I’m going to try a couple of things that the presenters suggested.

EC:  Would you recommend the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award to other educators?

RG: I would recommend Rochelle Lee Teacher Award to other educators. You do need to be dedicated, but in the end you gain PD, really reflect as a reader, and there are so many resources that they provide to you. I left with like 4 PD resource books I want to order, and of course you get the money for the books, which is great because who doesn’t want to create a wonderful library for your students.

EC: Your principal, Dr. Bahena, is a former awardee and alum of the program.

RG: Yeah she is, I told her about it and she was really happy. She was like, “you should definitely encourage other teachers and newer teachers, that they should really do this.”

I was thinking about doing it again, maybe doing a study group. Especially for the dual language team – a study group for that.

EC: Absolutely, and you get to choose what you want the focus of the study group to be centered around. That could be really beneficial, thinking about how you approach literacy from a dual language perspective. 

RG: I think I might gather some teachers, especially to the newer teachers. I think you get sucked into the routines and what you need to do. I think this program is just a little bit away everything else and it’s just about you. Nothing else about CPS, just you. You as a teacher, you as a reader, and you as learner.

Interview by Eric Coleman

Edited by Shawn Bush and Elizabeth Kristoff

Partner Spotlight: The Illinois Lottery & WITSummerBooks

WITS partners with the Illinois Lottery to provide literacy enrichment and summer reading opportunities to thousands of students through the WITSummerBooks program. The Illinois Lottery strives to maximize revenue for Illinois schools in a responsible manner in addition to supporting community enriching programs such as the WITSummerBooks program. Sponsoring the WITSummerBooks program is a direct investment in student literacy and education for the Illinois Lottery, which is an important part of the Illinois Lottery’s mission.  WITS provides books and reading assistance to youngsters in the greatest need of additional support. For them, summer books are lifelines to adventures, travel and learning opportunities they may not otherwise have.

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Read to Succeed: Chicago White Sox Impact at McClellan Elementary

By Julianne Bartosz, Senior Coordinator of Public Relations, Chicago White Sox

Learning takes place “Where the Sidewalk Ends” and
“Where the Wild Things Are” with friends like “The Cat in
the Hat,” “Junie B. Jones” and “Madeline.”

These children’s book titles bring different places and faces
to mind for readers both young and old. For 31 White Sox
front office staff members, these books are associated
with more than their own childhood experiences. They
are tools to create new memories with third grade
students at McClellan Elementary School through a
literacy program called Working in the Schools (WITS).

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Student and Mentor Spotlight: Exelon & Lozano Elementary

Lorilyn and Galilea are reading partners in the WITS Workplace Mentoring Program. Galilea is a sixth grader at Rodolfo Lozano Bilingual & International Center Elementary School in Wicker Park. Every Thursday afternoon she rides a school bus with 34 of her classmates to Exelon’s offices in the Chase Tower. Once there, she takes the elevator to the 48th floor, where she reads with Lorilyn, or Laura, her other reading mentor. Lorilyn and Galilea are both WITS veterans, having been in the program for several years. They sat down to share some of their thoughts on reading, WITS, and each other.

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Collaboration Between a Classroom Reading Tutor and Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardee

WITS students read books in classroom library

“She is a real pick-me-up on hard days,” Etha Meeks says, speaking of her WITS Classroom Reading Tutor, Lynne. It’s a busy Wednesday afternoon at Manierre Elementary in Old Town, and we are able to steal a few minutes in the teachers’ lounge to catch up on their partnership.

Classroom Reading Tutoring (CRT) is WITS’ oldest program, stemming from the first partnerships forged by founders Joanne Alter and Marion Stone. Currently, there are 36 active CRT volunteers supporting teachers in 17 schools across the city. Some CRTs have been volunteering with their teacher since WITS was founded in 1991, while others are experiencing their first school year in the program.

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Corporate Focus: Segall Bryant & Hamill and Madison Capital

WITS Workplace Mentoring student reads with his mentor.

WITS offers a portfolio of literacy mentorship programs that serve students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. Each WITS program partners a CPS student with a dedicated mentor who reads with them one-on-one on a weekly basis. Many volunteers go to schools to work with students, but in the Workplace Mentoring program it is reversed and students meet their mentors after school at their workplace. No matter where the program takes place, when WITS is happening there are four key components: committed volunteers, excited students, reading and lots of fun.

On Thursday afternoons, ten fourth grade students from McAuliffe Elementary School are bused to the offices of Segall Bryant & Hamill to read, complete homework, and engage in fun activities with their mentors.

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Corporate Focus: Deloitte

WITS incorporates positive reading experiences into the lives of Chicago public schools students.  At the heart of each WITS program are the committed volunteers, who contribute their time and energy to build relationships with these students, giving the literacy support they need to develop a passion for reading.

Through the Workplace Mentoring program, students meet after-school with caring volunteers from corporate offices to practice reading aloud and receive homework help. Maria Seimenis, lead-volunteer from Deloitte, reflected on her experience as a literacy mentor and shared insights on why Deloitte partners with WITS.

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WITS Program Launch 2016

WITS 2016, Brett Bulthuis

The first day of WITS volunteer programs are not unlike the first day of school – for both mentors and students. There’s palpable excitement and wide eyes, but also a few nervous glances and quiet “hellos.” I’ve had the privilege of visiting a lot of these “first days”  over the past four years and it always renews my sense of purpose in our organization. When we say we are in the midst of launching 60 programs, we also mean we are in the midst of launching thousands of new relationships between students and their mentors. It’s amazing – and a bit overwhelming – to stop and consider for a moment.

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