Every October, WITS programs begin as mentors and students meet each other to read together for the first time. Through our WITS Kindergarten, Mid-Day Mentoring, Workplace Mentoring, and WITS on the Weekend programs, we get to witness K-8th grade students from schools across Chicago build relationships with their mentor(s), sparking that curiosity for learning and developing lifelong literacy skills through positive reading experiences. Our program staff have the privilege of working directly with our committed volunteers and incredible students, so we asked them:
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
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.
“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.
In 1999, CBOE welcomed Drake Elementary School students to their downtown corporate offices for the very first time, creating the Workplace Mentoring program. Today, 20 schools partner with WITS through the Workplace Mentoring program; and Drake students continue to meet with their always supportive CBOE mentors. The students who participate each week are exceptionally talented and bright young minds who, in addition to reading, show their creativity on a weekly basis. To start the year, Drake students and CBOE mentors reflected on 2016, set their intentions for 2017, and chose a word to guide their year. See the photos below.
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.
Dear WITS Community,
One year ago, Boundless Readers and its renowned Rochelle Lee Teacher Award (RLTA) program was merged into WITS. The vision for the merge was to bring together teacher professional development and volunteer literacy mentorship to create a comprehensive program model that drives literacy advancement and a love of reading in students through whole school support. As separate organizations, WITS and RLTA programs supported students through advancing literacy skills and developing a positive mindset toward learning. Evaluation for the first year since the merge shows that the WITS and RLTA programs are stronger together. The integrated program model deepens our students’ attitudes toward reading and strengthens our communities of volunteers, teachers and principals.
The data is coming in and here is the first look at WITS’ impact for the 2015-16 school year. Read more to see how WITS is making a difference through volunteer-powered literacy enrichment and stay tuned for the complete Evaluation Report.
To advance student literacy, WITS empowers teachers through the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award Summer Institute. The Summer Institute is a series of professional development workshops designed to promote and develop teachers’ understanding, knowledge, and implementation of best practices in literacy instruction. This year, 141 Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardees were invited to WITS’ offices at the Literacenter to participate in over 170 hours of professional development offered through the Summer Institute. Teachers are also given access to the Rochelle Lee Library to familiarize themselves with texts to bring into their classrooms.
June has been full of fun at WITS. Scroll through the pictures below to catch up with all of our recent happenings!