Since 1991, Working in the Schools (WITS) has connected students with literacy mentors in public elementary schools across Chicago. What began as a caring volunteer opportunity for the founders of WITS, Marion Stone and Joanne Alter, has evolved into the most influential literacy service provider to elementary aged students in Chicago. Now in 2018, WITS plays an integral role in building positive self-identity and critical literacy skills for more than 3,000 students in WITS programs each school year.
“We always knew our programs created positive attitudes toward reading in our students. But in 2012, it became apparent that our programs were affecting reading level growth,” said Brenda Langstraat, Chief Executive Officer of WITS since 2012. “It was then that we identified the two outcomes of WITS programs to be students’ reading level growth and attitudes towards reading.”
At the corner of Jackson and LaSalle stands the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Surrounded by heavy bollards and an unobtrusive black and gold sign indicating what is inside, you might never think that, for one hour every Thursday, the bank changes. Fifteen employees close their computers and head to the fifth-floor cafeteria while a school bus filled with fifth through seventh grade students from Fairfield Elementary Academy pulls up outside. Suddenly, a normally quiet lobby fills with chatter as the students are greeted by officers overseeing the space and are led through security before going upstairs. Even though they do not work at the bank, they are as much a part of the community as those who spend their days there.
The WITS community of volunteers inspires students as they develop as readers and learners. Leadership is regularly seen through the actions and examples of the mentors that show up for their students, and the students who make a small investment in their academic success every time they read at WITS. This empowerment is seen in the Workplace Mentoring program with CBOE Global Markets, Inc. (CBOE).
February is an entire month dedicated to love and hearts galore. At WITS, there’s no one we love more than our students and their mentors. In the Student/Mentor Spotlight, we feature the people who make our programs great, like Giovanni and Mark from our Mid-Day Mentoring program at Perez Elementary. Giovanni is in the 3rd grade, and Mark works at Northern Trust, a WITS corporate partner. Read on to learn more about the things they love, like books and pizza toppings.
Libraries are inspiring places. I’ve always felt this way, but never felt so compelled as when I observe how engaged our students are while at the Thomas Hughes Children’s Library. Located on the 2nd floor of the Harold Washington Library, this newly-renovated, extraordinary space is where WITS has held Workplace Mentoring sessions this fall, in our partnership with Exelon Corporation and Lozano Bilingual & International Center. It is where you will see students and volunteers marveling over x-rays of toys at a special exploration table, challenging their engineering skills while building a Rube Goldberg machine, or simply cozying into oversized beanbag chairs to read about prehistoric mammals.
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. Continue reading An Interview with WITS Board of Directors Educators: Dr. Olimpia Bahena and Principal Sydney Golliday→
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.
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.
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).
WITS on the Weekend students visited Navy Pier to ride the new Centennial Wheel. Check out pictures from the field trip below. Special thanks to Navy Pier for hosting us and to Clif Bar for keeping our students fueled.