In an interview with Chicago Now, Brenda Langstraat, WITS CEO, discusses the power of literacy to build communities and promote equity. Thank you Chicago Now and Gordon Dymowski for your support of WITS.
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.
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!
Since October 26, 1966 International Literacy Day has been celebrated on September 8th. The day was chosen by UNESCO as an opportunity for communities to reflect on their achievements and work towards new goals in expanding literacy.
This International Literacy Day, WITS asks you to join us in our mission of setting students on a trajectory for success by building critical literacy skills. Studies show literacy has a positive effect on long-term academic success and economic growth. By creating opportunities for every student in Chicago to be literate, we set our city on the path of success. By investing in WITS, you invest in Chicago’s future.
By Eric Coleman, Communications Manager
The Early Childhood Summer Program (ECSP) provides free literacy programming designed to help students develop the early literacy skills needed to be ready for kindergarten. This year, WITS partnered with the University of Chicago to offer full-day pre-kindergarten summer programming at De Diego Elementary School, McAuliffe Elementary School, and Talcott Fine Arts and Museum Academy. The Ready, Set, STEM program, made possible by a grant from Boeing, engages students through inquiry-based learning focused on math and science concepts.
By: Sara Martinez, Program Coordinator
WITS was founded on two core principles – building communities and empowering readers – which have continually sparked our leaders and mentors to strive for literacy equity across Chicago for the past 27 years. Since 2012, Revolution Brewing has contributed to WITS by providing their space in Avondale and in-kind donations for events, which has helped cultivate a stronger and more tight-knit WITS community. Now, Revolution employees have joined our literacy mentors in empowering students by participating in our volunteer programs. During the 2018 WITS Early Childhood Summer Program (ESCP), 18 volunteers from Revolution’s Sales and Marketing Department served kindergarten and first-grade students at seven elementary school sites.
By Eric Coleman, Communications Manager
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.
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.
WITS CEO, Brenda Langstraat joined Andrea Darlas and WGN Radio to talk about the importance of student literacy and its effect as a builder of community. Listen here to learn about the impact of the WITS Early Childhood Summer Program, our plans for the upcoming school year, and more. Thank you to Andrea and WGN Radio for your support of WITS.
Crain’s Chicago highlighted the WITSummer Books campaign for effectively using social media to drive individual giving. Read the article here. Thank you to Crain’s Chicago Business and Lisa Bertagnoli for promoting the work of WITS! The enthusiasm of WITSummer Books supporters led to WITS exceeding fundraising goals and increasing donor engagement. This allowed us to put books in the hands of thousands of WITS students and continue to support literacy in Chicago Public Schools.