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.
“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.
WITS offers a portfolio of literacy mentorship programsthat 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.
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.
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.
WITS makes giving back easy. By delivering and matching students with volunteers, WITS provides structure that focuses program time on building relationships and sharing stories. WITS reaches over 800 students in the Mid-Day Mentoring, Workplace Mentoring, and WITS on Campus programs each year. Bea Farmer and Randy Perillo, lead volunteers from BP, shared insights from their experience partnering with WITS to encourage other groups to consider joining the WITS team.
Maureen McInerney volunteered with the WITSummer Early Childhood program at Jordan Elementary in Rogers Park. She read with young scholars entering kindergarten three days a week in the library center. Below, Maureen shares about her experience with WITS and highlights of the program. Thank you Maureen for being a truly outstanding volunteer!
WITS Summer Early Childhood is back! On Tuesday, July 5th the WITS staff and volunteer team kicked off programs at six Chicago Public School sites – McClellan Elementary, Walsh Elementary, McCutcheon Elementary, Jordan Elementary, and DeDiego Elementary. Together, we are supporting Kindergarten readiness through themed read-alouds, art projects, dramatic play, and writing activities.
By leveraging partnerships throughout the city, WITS provided many surprises and fun activities for our students this past month. Through the energy of our volunteers and the trust built by serving as mentors this school year, WITS was able to bring students out of their schools to explore libraries, gardens, and corporate offices. These celebrations culminate with each WITS student being given five brand new WITSummer Books to add to their at-home libraries. Read ahead to learn more about why we believe that summer reading is important, the partnerships that allow us to have programming, and what has been happening this past month at WITS!