WITS ANNUAL REPORT
In February 2022, I walked into an elementary school in the Northside of the city to read with four kindergarten students. The WITS kindergarten program at Hibbard takes place in a large auditorium that was part of the original building in 1916. There are tables set up on the stage with about fifteen masked mentors digging through book bins. Minutes later, at the back of the auditorium behind the rows of seats, the doors open, and we turn to see kindergartners excitedly running to meet their mentors on the stage to settle in for some quality time with a good book.
This is what I missed; this is what we all missed.
WITS started 2022 with one goal - have all our program models back in-person by the end of the year. The WITS Staff worked diligently to reach this goal and by the end of the year our mentors and students were back on busses, our students were sitting with their mentors, and our teachers were in classrooms learning from each other. We continued to deliver on our mission to empower Chicago elementary students to discover themselves through reading while developing foundational literacy skills.
Why WITS Matters
Advance Illinois' report "The State We're In 2022" reported that only twenty-eight percent of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) fourth graders are proficient in reading. That is a twelve percent decline since before the pandemic. The report also relayed that "disruptions to schooling left significant gaps in students' social-emotional development." These findings reinforce the importance of our programs which support both students' social emotional well-being and learning. I am proud of WITS' holistic approach to tackling these problems and know the importance of developing foundational literacy skills. Literacy is the foundation on which all other learning develops.
84% of students agreed that participating in WITS made them want to read for fun more often. Reading for fun leads to more reading engagement and better reading comprehension.
100% of our partner teachers are satisfied with student participation in WITS. Teachers value that our programs promote a love of reading and support social-emotional development in students.
Our Program Partners
Bringing back the largest corporate programming in Chicago Public Schools was not like flipping a switch. In June 2022 William Blair, hosted a Corporate Recruitment Event at their offices. At the event our program partners advocated for WITS and reflected on the importance of WITS programming. Through this event and effective stewardship, WITS was able to bring on our first new program partner in three years, Harrison Street.
In 2022, 600 Mentors committed to reading with 480 elementary students in 20 Chicago Public Schools. Mentors like Cady Swiler, showed their students parts of the world through books. Cady works as a Lead Recruiter for William Blair and for three years, Cady was paired with C.J., a scholar at LEARN Hunter Perkins.
Cady Swiler, Lead Recruiter for William Blair
"I’m so lucky that I was able to work with C.J. for three whole years. I saw him grow as a reader, brother, uncle, and scholar.
That consistency really allowed us to have a relationship that we were comfortable with. Getting to see that growth, I got to know his family story as it came up in conversation, his study habits, what classes he liked, what he didn’t like.
We read books about Native Americans and the Underground Railroad, worked on math homework, studied for his Constitution test, and talked about our shared love of "The Vampire Diaries".
WITS has made it so easy to get involved. Had I known it would be this fun and easy, I would have raised my hand sooner. It has taught me the importance of leveraging what you’re passionate about so it never feels like service but rather becomes an integrated part of your life." - Cady Swiler
According to the US Department of Education, sixty-one percent of low-income families have no age-appropriate children’s books at home. Additionally, children growing up in homes with at least twenty books get three years more schooling than children from bookless homes, independent of their parents' education, occupation, and class. This is why WITS has never stopped giving books to teachers and students. In 2022 WITS gave over ten thousand books to teachers and students. These books encourage year-round reading and allow students to share their favorite stories with friends and family.
By putting culturally specific books in the hands of teachers and students, WITS guarantees perpetuity of impact and access to literacy resources. These books, selected because they reflect the lived experiences of our students, are provided at no cost to the recipients.
The 2022 WITS Blackboard Affair celebrated our superpowers. We honored Jeremy Cole with the Alter and Stone Volunteer of the Year Award for his ten plus years of volunteering and service on the Board of Directors at WITS. We also honored William Blair with the Corporate Partner of the Year Award. Since 2018, William Blair has been one of WITS’ largest corporate partners. William Blair employees have volunteered for more than 4,000 hours with students from LEARN Hunter Perkins.
Dr. Olimpia Bahena, Principal, Talcott Fine Arts and Museum Academy & WITS Board of Directors President
In 2022 we voted in our largest class of Board members ever, and unanimously voted for Olimpia Bahena, Principal at Talcott Fine Arts Museum and Academy, to lead as WITS Board President.
She became the first person of color and the first educator to lead the Board. Her personal story echoes the story of many of our student’s families and has WITS woven throughout it. She was a Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardee nearly twenty years ago and oversees the activation of all WITS programming at Talcott.
Rounding out a stellar year for WITS Board leadership we welcomed Jennifer Alter Warden into the role of Chairperson. Her mother founded WITS alongside Marion Stone in 1991. As chairperson, she continues her lifelong civic commitment to the city of Chicago.
WITS heads into 2023 with the support of our community and strong leadership to fulfill its strategic plan, which began in 2021. We are committed to building the most effective literacy enrichment program in Chicago by investing in an independent external evaluation of our model and strengthening our relationships with our corporate and school partners.
I would like to gratefully acknowledge the individuals, foundations, and corporations that charitably supported the WITS mission in 2022. Thank you for making it possible for WITS to return to the classroom.
We do all of this because we believe literacy is a basic human right and support a Chicago where every student has the opportunity to be literate.
Thank you for believing this too.
Tena Latona, WITS Chief Executive Officer