Where to begin?
Where I always do, with our values: Community. Consistency. Empowerment. These are more than words to us at WITS. They are the cornerstones upon which we build all we do. When we had to rebuild WITS to meet the myriad challenges of 2020, these were the first bricks we put down.
The definition of togetherness is “the state of being close to another person or other people.”
2020 taught us that physical proximity cannot be the only way we define togetherness. WITS has spearheaded stretching the meaning of this word beyond proximity by creating digital spaces and cultivating community through discussion.
In one week, from Monday, March 9 to Monday, March 13, we went from bringing thousands of people together weekly across this city to recreating what that would look like virtually for the next year.
- Only one month after suspending all WITS programs, we launched Empowering Readers at Home – a literacy resource page that included a portal for WITS mentors to submit encouraging messages to their partner students. Since April, over 320 messages have since been shared.
- The Rochelle Lee Teacher Award Summer Institute shifted to a virtual experience for 140 CPS educators. Workshop facilitators adjusted their curriculum content and structure to ensure workshops were accessible and meaningful to Awardees.
- WITS adapted our Early Childhood Summer Program (ECSP) to a free online learning space for pre-k through first grade students. WITS addressed the connectivity gap among our schools by partnering with the Chicago Public Library Foundation to print and deliver 4,000 copies of ECSP Activity Books to 81 libraries across Chicago.
In a year characterized by inconsistency, we worked closely with our CPS principals and administrators to be a reliable part of their literacy curriculum. WITS serves the same communities year after year, taking direction from school leaders to shape how WITS supports long-term academic goals. Our students count on us to provide stable, safe, and caring adult relationships. In no small feat, we were able to maintain programming with nearly all our schools and corporate partners starting in September 2020.
WITS’ 2020-2021 Virtual Program brought together 2nd-8th grade students with volunteers for shared reading, mentorship, and community building. Teams of readers read aloud from EPIC!, a robust online library of children’s books. We made sure that our virtual program was a positive and safe space for students to be themselves during this uncertain time.
WITS invested in the devices, software, and platform subscriptions necessary to create and deliver quality online resources and programs. While at home, WITS staff was able to facilitate virtual mentoring sessions, film video read-alouds of books, and produce engaging curricula for the benefit of the entire WITS community.
Throughout 2020, America was awakened again and again to its history of systemic racism. We redefined and recommitted to being an ally in dismantling these systems and empowering the voices of our Black and Brown community members. With this awareness, we committed to rebuilding the frameworks to be an actively antiracist organization.
- We committed to developing a Board that is more reflective of the communities we serve.
- We started offering yearly antiracism training for our volunteers and invested in ongoing professional development for our staff.
- We sought to partner with companies whose cultures and businesses reflect antiracist values and practices.
- We formed a book club featuring books by Black and Brown authors to foster conversation and build a culture of antiracism.
- We continued to actively promote Black and Brown authors of children’s books in our work with students, teachers, and the public.
We did all of this because we stuck together in 2020. We built on our values. We trusted our community. You trusted us. In a year that many are happy to leave behind, I’m happy to share all that brought WITS together this past year.
2021. We are ready.