Rochelle Lee Teacher Award Summer Institute Presenter: Heather vonOesen Dean

By Shawn Bush, Program Manager

Teacher work together in the Arts Integrated Curriculum Rochelle Lee Teacher Award workshop led by Heather von Oesen Dean.


Heather vonOesen Dean is the President and Owner of Creative Across the Curriculum, LLC and a former Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardee.  Through Creative Across the Curriculum, Heather helps educators  integrate a creative arts curriculum into their content area instruction.  Heather believes that, “arts integration increases rigor by fostering a culture for creative application  and analysis, innovation, divergent and convergent thinking, collaboration, and communication.”  Heather facilitated a workshop entitled, Arts Integrated Curriculum Design (Intro) for Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardees during this past summer institute.

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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!

International Literacy Day – 2018

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.

WITS & University of Chicago STEM – Full-Day Early Childhood Summer Programming

By Eric Coleman, Communications Manager

Students build a birdhouse in the Ready, Set, STEM program at Talcott Fine Arts & Museum Academy.

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.

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Partner Spotlight: Revolution Brewing

By: Sara Martinez, Program Coordinator

Revolution Brewing employee, Brian Elslager, reads with a pre-k student in WITS’ Early Childhood Summer Program.

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.

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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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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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