Category Archives: Volunteer

Celebrating National Mentoring Month!

By Kristen Strobbe, Chief Program Officer

There’s no better way to kick off a new year than with National Mentoring Month! Launched in 2002 by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, National Mentoring Month focuses attention on the need for mentors, as well as how each of us – individuals, businesses, government agencies, schools, faith communities and nonprofits – can work together to increase the number of mentors to help ensure positive outcomes for youth. National Mentoring Month gives us an opportunity to pause and remember why we choose to mentor and appreciate the mentors we’ve had in our lives.

At WITS, January marks the midpoint in our program year, and is a time for the three Rsreflecting, resetting, and refreshing.

We encourage mentors to:

  • Reflect on the first half of the year with their students.
  • Reset a partnership and start anew with a positive mindset.
  • Refresh their mentoring sessions with new conversations and new books – building on the strong foundation that’s already been created.

National Mentoring Month is a great way to highlight the three Rs, and this year, we’ll be doing that through our first ever WITS Mentoring Month Calendar. Every day in January will include an activity that relates to mentoring – from tips on how to be a better mentor, to WITS student and mentor spotlights, to a Tedx Talk about the science of mentorship, there’s something for everyone!

Lastly, thank you to our 1,500+ mentors! Click here to download a template and tell us why you mentor. Share your image on social media and tag us @witschicago. This month is about you and the time you invest in making sure Chicago’s students thrive and succeed. WITS is so grateful for your service.

WITS Tips: What are the elements of a book?

by Sara Martinez, Program Coordinator

A key literacy skill students learn are the different elements of a book. Mastering these elements can help them in their journey of becoming life-long readers. It is important to know the difference between fiction and nonfiction before discussing these elements.

Two types of books

There are two types of books: fiction and nonfiction. Fiction books are written from the authors imagination and contain invented characters and events. Fiction books are usually novels, novellas, or short stories. Nonfiction books contain facts about real life events, people, or ideas. Some examples of nonfiction books are encyclopedias, dictionaries, guides and manuals, or travel books.

Elements of a fiction book

  • Follows a plot (beginning, middle, end)
  • Narrative elements
    • Characters
    • Setting
    • Plot
  • Usually a theme or moral the reader will learn
  • Read for fun!

Elements of a nonfiction book

  • Text features
    • Table of contents
    • Glossary
    • Index
    • Pictures
    • Diagrams
  • Factual
  • Read in any order
  • Read to learn new information


Why invest in mentor relationships?

Why invest in mentor relationships

Consistency is key

One of the pillars of WITS programming is consistency. Through diligent planning, the WITS program team ensures that each WITS student has a mentor to read with every session. WITS mentors are trained and equipped with strategies to connect with students over stories and activities.

Studies have shown that:

  • Students who meet regularly with mentors are 52% less likely than peers to skip a day of school.
  • Students who have mentors report setting higher educational goals and are more likely to attend college than those without mentors.
  • Students who face an opportunity gap but have a mentor are 55% more likely to be enrolled in college than those who did not have a mentor.
  • At-risk students who have a mentor are 130% more likely to hold a leadership position.

Committed to the power of reading

WITS mentors are committed to the long-term success of their students and are invested in the school community where they serve. Most importantly, WITS mentors believe deeply in students and the power of reading.

A donation of just $30 provides a WITS student books to celebrate their time with their WITS mentor. Donate today and help strengthen these relationships that make a difference in the lives of thousands of Chicago Public Schools students.

My New World View

By Virginia W., WITS Volunteer from The Clare

Most Tuesday mornings this past summer I was transported into a new and stunningly different world…one where everything is very logical, simple and honest, and I learned many important life lessons such as: It’s comforting to have a hand to hold on to, a book to look at and a story to listen to. I learned that if you could spell your name, that is good; if you can be a “friend,” that is even better; and if you can remember to hold up your hand when you have to go potty, that is best of all.

It’s comforting to have a hand to hold on to, a book to look at and a story to listen to.This new world enveloped me like a warm blanket while library paste filled my nostrils and glitter clung to my clothes. Sticky little hands reached out to hold mine and expectant eyes twinkled with love and energy.

I learned to think and listen in a new way. My world was turned upside down and inside out and backwards for a few cherished hours while I was immersed in four-year-old life, outlook and logic as a WITS volunteer at Holden Elementary School.

A few examples:

Antonio asked his aunt if she’d promise to always be around for him to come visit, and she explained that she would try, but if a time came that she wasn’t there he could always remember her and their good times together. “NO! I want you to promise!” he said and I understood.

Then there was Francesca, who showed me she knew how to cross herself, and then look up—the latter being very important because (she whispered to me) “God, you know, is on the roof.”

I asked Yi-Ming if he spoke Chinese at home. “Yes” he said, and proudly added, “At school I speak Chicago.”

“How old are you?” Maggie queried, studying my face. “How old do you think,” I countered. She thought for a minute, then, “My mom is 30, so you’re prob’ly 30-100.”

In fact, I felt four-years old again, with sticky hands, full of great expectations, smelling library paste, covered with glitter—more alive than I have ever been in my life!

Community Volunteers at WITS

By Nick Colbert, Program Coordinator

Throughout the school year and summer, over 1,500 volunteers serve as WITS literacy mentors, including over 100 community members who empower Chicago Public School students as readers. This is achieved through four programs: WITS on the Weekend, WITS Kindergarten, Early Childhood Summer Program, and Classroom Reading Tutors. With the new school year approaching, WITS mentors shared why they continue to volunteer.

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WITS on the Weekend 2018 Recap

By Nick Colbert, Program Coordinator

WITS on the Weekend students from McCutcheon Elementary build polygons with their mentor.The WITS on the Weekend (WoW) program equips students to apply literacy skills through scientific inquiry and explorative learning. This past year, WITS hosted programs at Lozano Elementary, Walsh Elementary, and McCutcheon Elementary.  In addition to individualized reading time with book choice, each WoW session includes a check-in activity, group activities, and the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) project for the day. Since the program takes place on Saturdays, WoW affords more time for volunteers and students to expand their knowledge and work together on problem solving techniques.

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Program Spotlight: Workplace Mentoring with Drake Elementary School and CBOE Global Markets

By: Laura Tilsner, Program Manager

Drake student poses for a picture with her mentor at the Workplace Mentoring program at CBOE.

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).

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Student & Mentor Spotlight: Giovanni and Mark

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.

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2017 Alter & Stone Outstanding Volunteer: Jamie Garard, III

Jamie Garard, III with WITS student

WITS is proud to honor Jamie Garard, III with the Alter & Stone Outstanding Volunteer Award at this year’s Blackboard Affair. “Mr. Jamie,” as many students fondly referred to him, was a dedicated WITS literacy mentor at Peabody Elementary School and served in leadership roles on the WITS Board of Directors. Today, Jamie sits on WITS’ Emeritus Board. Below, Jamie shares about his involvement with WITS, favorite memories, and advice for WITS students.
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