WITS is the largest provider of no-cost literacy enrichment programming and activator of corporate partnerships in Chicago Public Schools.

Books given to students
Books given to teachers

Our Mission

WITS believes that literacy is the foundation on which all other learning develops. Our mission is to empower Chicago elementary students to discover themselves through reading while developing foundational literacy skills. We do this by creating community through literacy-based mentorship, enabling teachers to build diverse classroom libraries, and promoting book ownership at home.
Placeholder Image
Placeholder Image
Placeholder Image

    Our Students

    WITS is the largest activator of consistent corporate programming in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), with thirty corporate partners and more than 500 mentors serving 431 students at sixteen schools. Sixty-five percent of our schools and corporate partners have worked together for at least a decade. These longstanding relationships are no accident; the strong bond that develops year after year is key to the WITS value of consistency and the success of these programs.

    In 2023, the effects of the pandemic continued to reveal the inequities in the education system despite many of us adjusting to the post-pandemic world. WITS programs proved to be vital in addressing two ongoing issues stemming from two years of remote learning:

    To adapt to these needs, we focused on the relationship-building aspect of our programming by ensuring mentors were prepared to meet students where they were. We gave mentors the tools and resources to understand the importance of consistently being present and allowed students to test their agency by choosing their books and engaging with text across levels.

    In some of our schools, mentors welcomed migrant students into the WITS community—specifically Walsh, Perez, and Talcott. Since August 2022, Chicago has welcomed an unprecedented 28,000 migrants. It is difficult to track the exact number of migrant students. Still, it is estimated that over 2,000 migrant students enrolled in Chicago Public Schools this past school year, and the district had 7,000 more English learners than the previous school year. These mentors had the unique opportunity to become some of the first people these students developed relationships with, outside of the many systems these families had to navigate to get here.

    WITS adapted to this unique opportunity by increasing the bilingual books in our library, printing materials in Spanish, and coaching mentors on how to support students with whom you have no shared spoken language. I am proud of everything we do at WITS, but it was incredibly meaningful to be able to support these new, young future Chicagoans.

    Learn More about our student programs

    Our Teachers

    Teachers in the last nine years

    In the nine years since WITS acquired the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award (RLTA), we have provided professional development and classroom libraries for 1,371 teachers.

    Placeholder Image
    The books I purchased with my WITS funds have been read, discussed, and written about by my students. They have increased my student’s understanding not only of reading but also of important cross-curricular topics. I am so grateful for the opportunity to continue finding books that excite my students and foster their lifelong love of reading!
    Diana ZurawskiGalileo Scholastic Academy

    In 2023, we adapted to the changing landscape of teacher professional development and listened to what was most important to our teachers. The message was clear: Our teachers want more books, and they want the ability to select books tailored to their students' specific needs. This decision by no means created a professional development vacuum. Our educators also communicated that Chicago Public Schools has substantially increased the amount of teacher professional development that meets teachers’ needs and is delivered in a way that maximizes their opportunities to engage with their peers during professional development days and school year programming.

    CPS teachers are given $250 to buy supplies for their classrooms. This is hardly enough to build a robust classroom library, not to mention all the other supplies needed to make an elementary classroom shine.

    In 2023, we launched RLTA as a classroom library-only grant. This change will substantially expand the number of teachers who receive book grants annually. In many of the schools we serve, the classroom libraries WITS builds are the only functioning libraries in the school. As of 2023, 82% of CPS elementary schools did not have a functioning library, and as of summer 2022, only 17% of CPS elementary schools had librarians. Our initial data shows that the strategic decision to focus on building more robust classroom libraries hit the mark, and we saw a 203% increase in applications over the previous year.

    This is what makes WITS an invaluable resource to our school communities—we listen and adapt. As CPS enters the 2024 school year with an unsurmountable budget deficit, WITS will continue to serve our school communities at no cost.

    Our Strategic Plan


    • Narrow portfolio to programs with whole-school impact.
    • Realign organization, structure, processes, and training to maximize staff talent and efficiency.


    • Work with an external evaluation partner to identify impact, adaptations, and training to improve outcomes.


    • Scale multiple programs at single schools.
    • Identify expansion opportunities with new schools to reach more high-need students.

    In 2020, WITS worked with Boston Consulting Group to develop an effective program strategy and growth plan.

    In 2023, we continued our partnership with Marzano Research. This first-of-its-kind partnership for WITS is an exploratory study into what aspects of WITS' program models are most effective at driving literacy outcomes. Following this study, WITS will have our own evaluation tools and a roadmap to develop more effective program models while maintaining our commitment to developing our students into strong readers.

    WITS continues to be the largest provider of literacy enrichment programming in Chicago Public Schools. As we approach the latter part of our strategic plan, we seek to expand our programs serving kindergarten and third-grade students. Our Mid-Day Mentoring programs, which serve second, third, and fourth graders, and the WITS Kindergarten programs are uniquely designed to help students develop vocabulary, context, fluency, and resiliency skills through consistent, meaningful interactions with non-familial adults. These relationships act as a third space for students to have conversations in a safe, one-on-one, dedicated environment.

    Over the next two years, with increased investment, we hope to double the amount of programming we offer in these age groups, leveraging our position as the only organization providing weekly mentorship to students in this critical developmental age group.

    Learn More about our Strategic Plan

    WITS Blackboard Affair presents The Mirror Ball

    Placeholder Image

    In November 2023, we gathered WITS supporters to celebrate and raise the necessary funds to support our mission. We honored the work of our longest corporate partner, Cboe, with whom we have had a twenty-three-year relationship. Over the years, Cboe mentors have spent 164,000 hours reading and mentoring students at John B. Drake Elementary School in Bronzeville.

    Cboe and all the WITS Corporate Partners are addressing the literacy crisis facing Chicago's students, which the pandemic has exacerbated. These partnerships are more important than ever as only twenty-eight percent of Chicago Public Schools fourth graders are proficient readers. Our corporate partners directly address this issue and drive results; sixty-three percent of students who participate in WITS corporate programming outperform the national average of yearly reading level growth.

    For the 2023 WITS Blackboard Affair, we chose the Mirror Ball theme to reference the literacy concept of Windows, Mirrors, and Sliding Glass doors. The concept states:

    • Books are windows into the realities of others
    • Books are mirrors that reflect the life of the reader
    • And books can be sliding glass doors that allow you to walk into another world and present opportunities for the reader
    Our guest speaker at the Mirror Ball was WITS Mentor Jessica Acevedo. Jessica took the stage to reflect on her incredible experience with WITS and how WITS helps students succeed beyond what they could imagine. Jessica was a student in our Workplace Mentoring Program as a fourth grader at De Diego Elementary in Humboldt Park. Ten years later, she became a mentor in our kindergarten program as a student at Chicago City Colleges. Jessica's story exemplifies how WITS can open students to new possibilities through shared stories and relationships built with mentors.
    “Nearly a decade ago, my amazing mentors salvaged what was left of my love of reading. Additionally, my time as a WITS mentor made me realize the importance of literacy and culturally relevant texts for young people. Today, I stand before you as an English major at Harold Washington College, graduating next semester. I then plan to transfer to a four-year university to obtain a Bachelor's in Publishing and Editing with a minor in Women and Gender Studies.”
    Jessica Acevedo

    Our Books

    WITS is nothing without books. Each year, we give books to students and teachers to build libraries. This initiative connects the WITS community to what our organization was founded on: a love of reading.

    In 2023, WITS gave away 10,000 books to students and teachers. 1,174 donors supported the WITS mission and directly addressed the book-ownership gap affecting low-income families.

    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 parent's education, occupation, and class. With seventy-one percent of the CPS student body coming from economically disadvantaged backgrounds and sixty-one percent of low-income families lacking age-appropriate books at home, it is clear that we can make a difference by providing more books to students and teachers.
    Seventy-one percent of the CPS students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
    Sixty-one percent of low-income families lack age-appropriate books at home.
    Placeholder Image
    Placeholder Image
    Placeholder Image

      Our work continues

      What I am taking with me into 2024 is this: READING IS NOT OPTIONAL.

      56% of adults in America are functionally illiterate and unable to comprehend text beyond a sixth-grade level
      26% of Chicago elementary students are meeting literacy benchmarks

      Currently, fifty-six percent of adults in America are functionally illiterate and unable to comprehend text beyond a sixth-grade level. For context, most newspapers in America are written at an eleventh-grade level.

      Being unable to read does not happen when you are an adult; it happens when you are a kid. If only twenty-six percent of Chicago elementary students are meeting literacy benchmarks right now, what does that mean for the future of Chicago?

      So, what makes a reader?


      Each of you has contributed to the future of Chicago by ensuring that WITS students become joyful, fervent readers. I look forward to continuing to build a 100% literate Chicago, starting where it matters most: with our youngest learners.

      Thank you for thirty-two years of books, mentorship, teacher support, and joyful reading.


      Tena Latona, WITS Chief Executive Officer