Category Archives: Rochelle Lee Teacher Award

Rochelle Lee and the Power of a Good Book

by Mia Valdez-Quellhorst, Director of Teacher Programs

Libraries are Magic

Do you remember your elementary school library? How about the librarian? I vividly remember when my school librarian, Mrs. Barclay, read The Legend of the Bluebonnets and told us that Tomie dePaola was her favorite author/illustrator. I came to school early for the next week, reading every Tomie dePaola book I could find and talking about them with Mrs. Jamsen. Through the expertise of my school librarian, a world of interesting children’s literature opened up for me and the library became a safe and caring space.

Rochelle Lee and the Power of a Good Book

While I was learning traditional Texan folk tales, Rochelle Lee was sharing the power of a good book with Chicago Public School children at Oscar Mayer Elementary. She was a teacher who spent the time to find a just-right book for a challenging student and who encouraged kids to read comic books and graphic novels before it was cool. She made the library into a welcoming, inviting place where students wanted to spend time exploring a good book. Ms. Lee knew that if she could instill a love of reading in her students, that drive would serve them throughout their lives.

Her commitment to empower students to becoming lifelong reader and learners had a ripple effect, impacting Mayer students and the larger community. Kids starting coming home excited to read, staying late to spend time in the library, and talking for weeks about upcoming book fairs. Parents took notice when their children came home excited to read. Soon, the Rochelle Lee Fund was created to provide teachers the money needed to put high-quality children’s literature in the hands of students.

Boundless Readers, WITS, and the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award

The Rochelle Lee Fund started in Ms. Lee’s living room, then spread to an office in Andersonville.

After Ms. Lee retired, the Fund began to diversify adding professional development for teachers to the mix. Under the new moniker of Boundless Readers, Rochelle Lee’s legacy lived on as teachers developed their literacy practices, earning money to purchase books for their school libraries. Ms. Lee and Boundless Readers were on to something big: since 2005, the Obamas personally donated $47,000 to the organization, empowering hundreds of teachers and putting a multitude of books in the hands of kids.

In 2015, WITS acquired Boundless Readers in a merger that increased the scope and capacity for both organizations. What started as one librarian impacting one school community, has now grown to be a part of the WITS movement, impacting more than 300 teachers in 92 schools, reaching over 5,000 CPS students. To honor Ms. Lee’s legacy, under the WITS umbrella, Boundless Readers became the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award,  a professional development program where teachers qualify for Classroom Library Grants.

Good Books to Good Teachers

In today’s Chicago Public Schools, school librarians are a luxury most schools cannot afford. Since 2014, the number of full time librarians in CPS has declined from 454 to less than 140. The number of schools that provide quality library instruction is even lower. In an age where informational literacy is a needed skill in most job sectors, CPS is falling behind. This is where WITS comes in.

WITS’ volunteer-powered programs send home books to build student’s at-home library twice a year. In May 2019, WITS will send home 5,800 books. Through the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award and Classroom Library Grants, approximately 11,250 new, engaging books were added to classroom libraries. Thanks to WITS, there are students across Chicagoland who are learning the life-changing power of a good book. Rochelle Lee would be proud.

For more information on becoming a Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardee visit

Dorne Eastwood, 2018 Blackboard Affair Alter & Stone Outstanding Volunteer Awardee

By Eric Coleman, Development & Communications Manager

Dorne Eastwood, 2018 Alter and Stone Outstanding Volunteer Awardee.

At the 2018 Blackboard Affair, WITS is honored to recognize Dorne Eastwood with the Alter & Stone Outstanding Volunteer Award. Dorne is a former educator and Rochelle Lee Teacher Award (RLTA) alum who served as both a member of the Board of Directors and Executive Director of Boundless Readers. As Executive Director, Dorne was a driving force behind the 2015 merger that brought together WITS and Boundless Readers. Today, Dorne serves as a member of the WITS Board of Directors and continues to support RLTA teachers as a Study Group Coach. Her visionary leadership helped WITS grow into an organization that supports students directly through literacy mentorship and provides thousands of hours of professional development to teachers through the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award.

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National Principals Month

By Kellie Romany, Communications Manager

Each October brings an opportunity to recognize the hard work of our principals during National Principals Month. Here at WITS we are grateful for the incredible principals that partner with us to build critical literacy skills and develop positive self-identity in students. In celebration of National Principals Month we asked our staff to #ThankAPrincipal for their dedication to the education of the next generation.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram for more WITS #ThankAPrincipal shout outs.

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Rochelle Lee Teacher Award Summer Institute Presenter: Sean Eichenser

By Eric Coleman, Communications Manager

Sean Eichenser leads a workshop, for Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardees, on enhancing the writers workshop by using Google tools.

Sean Eichenser is an eighth Grade ELA teacher at Smyser Elementary School and a recipient of the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award (RLTA). Speaking to his experience as an awardee, Sean said, “WITS and RLTA fundamentally changed how I created and set-up my classroom library, as well as [how I] conducted my reading instruction. Building that community as [a member of] a RLTA Study Group in my school was huge in my first year of teaching.” Sean recently led a RLTA Summer Institute workshop on the Google office suite titled: G Suite in the Writer’s Workshop.

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10 Reads for the Summer

By Eric Coleman, Communications Manager

10 Reads for the Summer

Each year, WITS invests in approximately 150 Chicago Public Schools teachers through the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award program. Each Awardee receives access to literacy-focused professional development over the summer, and earns a grant to build their own classroom library. Over the school year, returning awardees participate in the Remaining Readers Book Club to maintain their passion for reading and build community with fellow CPS teachers. For the 2017-18 school year, nine Remaining Readers book clubs began by reading Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi before each selecting books to read and discuss in the months that followed. Below is a list of 10 books that were enjoyed by our 2017-18 Remaining Readers book clubs. Happy summer reading!

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From Theory to Practice: Rochelle Lee Awardees Share How Study Groups Impact Their Classrooms

By: Shawn Bush and Eric Coleman

Teachers at Lavizzo Elementary School meet as part of a Rochelle Lee Teacher Award Study Group.

One of WITS’ strategy for growing students as readers is supporting teachers through professional development and by providing classroom resources. The Rochelle Lee Teacher Award Study Group program aims to enhance the culture of literacy in entire schools through cross-grade-level teacher collaboration and increasing student access to books.

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Principles of A Principal: Creating a Nurturing School Environment For the Whole Community

By Shawn Bush, WITS Program Coordinator and Co-Editor of WITS Newsletter/Blog

Tai Basurto is the principal of southwest Chicago public school John C. Dore Elementary, Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardee and Study Group Leader, and a doctoral student finishing her capstone for the Urban Leadership program at University of Illinois – Chicago (UIC). In this piece, Tai shares how her teaching experience and passion for social justice inform how she leads and why she believes neighborhood schools are much more than just institutions of learning.

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The Power of Libraries: Perspective From A CPS Librarian

Interview and Edited by Shawn Bush, Co-Editor of Blog/Newsletter

Gundry Rowe is a librarian at Walt Disney Magnet Elementary School. This past year, CPS librarians were given the opportunity to apply for the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award Program (RLTA) for the first time. Gundry is a 2017-2018  individual awardee and is one of the first librarians to participate in the RLTA program. Below, Gundry shares her path into library science, delivering a powerful message of the importance of school and public libraries, continued professional development, and student choice. 

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