Image

2021


1991

WITS 2021 ANNUAL REPORT

Image

For 30 years WITS has built relationships by putting students and adults side by side to share the joy of reading. For 30 years we have brought teachers together from neighborhood schools across Chicago to build supportive peer relationships and grow their literacy acumen.

In that time, the WITS community has included over:

Image
Image
Image
Image

In spring 2020 it stopped.

In summer 2020 we invented and recreated.

In fall 2020 we were the largest provider of virtual literacy programming to Chicago Public Schools (CPS).

In spring 2021 we launched WITS K online. The activities made for this program have been downloaded over 500 times.

In summer 2021 we expanded our city-wide Early Childhood Summer Program (ECSP) offerings.

In fall 2021—we did it again.

In fall 2022—we will go back to school.

Because, if there is anything we have learned in these years, it is that there is nothing better than sitting next to thousands of students like Kenedi. Until we see you in the fall, I hope you enjoy strolling through what 2021 meant to WITS.

Image

As we celebrated our 30th year of partnership with Chicago public elementary schools—we kept our commitment to 5,300 students to empower them with consistent engagement from the WITS community. And we did it the way we always have: through the joy of reading.

WITS has stayed relevant over the past 30 years because we stayed agile and evolved alongside the needs of the communities we serve. This past year we launched a 5-year strategic plan that will narrow our program portfolio to those with strongest whole-school impact and allow us to invest in external evaluation. With a nearly $761,000 in-kind investment from the Boston Consulting Group Center for Illinois’ Future (BCG), we are laying the foundation for the next 30 years by realigning organizational structure with our mission to meet the needs of our school communities.

learn about our strategic plan

As we celebrated our 30th year of partnership with Chicago public elementary schools—we kept our commitment to 5,300 students to empower them with consistent engagement from the WITS community. And we did it the way we always have: through the joy of reading.

WITS has stayed relevant over the past 30 years because we stayed agile and evolved alongside the needs of the communities we serve. This past year we launched a 5-year strategic plan that will narrow our program portfolio to those with strongest whole-school impact and allow us to invest in external evaluation. With a nearly $761,000 in-kind investment from the Boston Consulting Group Center for Illinois’ Future (BCG), we are laying the foundation for the next 30 years by realigning organizational structure with our mission to meet the needs of our school communities.

learn about our strategic plan

We do this work through the lens of the commitment we made in June 2020 to travel the long road of being an anti-racist organization.

WITS is dedicated to connecting people across various boundaries as we believe cultivating relationships between diverse groups of people builds empathy and understanding. These key steps serve to dismantle ideologies that oppress People of Color and are foundational to the future we aspire to create.

wits anti-racism commitment

We remain committed to being an anti-racist organization. We acknowledge that racism has pervaded our public education system: from punishing enslaved people who sought to learn to read and write, to Separate but Equal education laws, to housing discrimination that often maintained school segregation and perpetuated unequal distribution of funds.

Our community building will continue to include and elevate the voices of People of Color.

In 2021 we explored these, and several other topics, in the WITS blog.

Social Justice in the Classroom How teachers inspire students to be heroes
windows mirrors and sliding glass doors
utilizing an equity literacy framework
banned books books unite us censorship divides us
“When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.”
-Children’s literature researcher, Rudine Sims Bishop

With this clear vision in mind our first program of 2021 was the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award (RLTA). Summer Institute 2021 was the first time that non-awardee teachers were allowed to participate in the elective workshops. In addition to the 122 awardees, there were 108 teachers who expressed interest in workshops; 47 registered; and 34 attended at least one workshop. These non-awardee teachers received the same high-quality professional development as our awardees and were also able to network and benefit from the resources that were shared. These teachers are literacy leaders in 41 schools. Our teachers tell us that the relationships they build as part of RLTA are invaluable. With that in mind we made the strategic decision in 2021 to focus our RLTA programming on Study Groups. Daphne Robinson, RLTA Manager, worked with teachers to build our largest cohort of Study Groups since RLTA became part of our program portfolio in 2015. This allowed WITS to deepen relationships with our teachers, guide their development, and provide them with the resources and tools they need to best serve their students.

Image

When it became apparent that we were going to have to start the Fall 2021 school year virtually, it felt like a punch in the gut. We had hoped for, and maybe even gotten excited about, in-person programming.

Going into our second year of virtual programming we knew what to do. We valued the close working relationships with our teachers. We mastered Epic! and Google Meet. We better understood how to meld volunteers from multiple corporate partners.

Most importantly, we focused on the social emotional well-being of our students. We leaned into the relational nature of storytelling and reading. We shone a spotlight on the relationships our programs build and created more space in our virtual programs for students to be themselves. We focused program outcomes and results on the well-being of our students and the experience with their peers and mentors.

480 students across 20 Chicago Public Schools participated in WITS Virtual Program.

0%
of students reported that they feel comfortable or very comfortable reading out loud at WITS.
0%
of students said that participating in WITS made them want to read for fun more.
0%
of students said that reading with their mentors made them feel good or even very good.

We are taking our focus on the social emotional well-being of our students with us into September 2022. We know nothing replaces the value of being with each other, especially when it comes to learning for our youngest students. What our students need now, more than ever, is us.

And what WITS always needed was you.

In 2021 we celebrated our 30th Anniversary Blackboard Affair prom together. We hadn’t danced together since 2019. Each year this celebration raises 35% of the revenue needed to make WITS the largest provider of literacy programming in Chicago Public Schools. We spread our vision to create opportunities for every student in Chicago to be literate. We celebrate those that have helped us get to where we are, and this year was no different.

Image
Image
Image
Image
Image
Image
Image
Image
Image

    The WITS Associates’ Board (AB) was honored for their tenacious support of our mission for the last 20 years. Members of the AB have gone on to become Board members and Executive Committee members. They have moved on from employers and brought WITS with them to their new teammates. They have led fundraising initiatives for WITSummer Books—our single largest individual fundraising campaign—that builds at-home and classroom libraries.

    Honored alongside them was Chicago White Sox—who represent everything it means to be a community partner not only to WITS but to all of Chicago. Their leadership in program participation and financial support is exactly the partnership we needed to make it to today.

    Image

    Two years ago this spring, our students’ childhoods were disrupted. Today, schools are recalibrating support to prioritize students’ social-emotional health and help bridge gaps in unfinished learning. WITS has thirty years of service in Chicago Public Schools and we know schools cannot face these challenges alone. We gratefully acknowledge the individuals, foundations, and corporations that charitably supported the WITS mission in 2021. Thank you for making it possible for WITS to return to the classroom.

    We are going back to schools in 2022 because of everything that got us through 2021. When we walk into schools in September 2022 we do so with some fancy new skills, deeper relationships, abundant knowledge, and most of all, bigger hearts.

    All because of what WITS means to all of you.

    We are so ready. We know you are, too.

    With the mission in mind,

    Image

    Tena Latona, WITS CEO

    Image

    SUPPORT WITS