Summer is Over for CPS! WITS Welcomes Back Students

Ana PortaEvents, Partnerships

Summer is Over
The School Year Approaches

As Labor Day weekend approaches, students around Chicago transition from their summer routines to their back to school mindset. Families make sure that their kids have what they need to be ready to go. Teachers creatively and eagerly prepare their classrooms for their students’ arrival, ready to greet their fresh set of students. Principals and administrators compile rosters, organize the school’s schedule, and put on finishing touches to make sure that everything is set for the first day back.

Meanwhile, the Program Team at WITS starts to gear up for a busy year of volunteer-powered mentorship programs by meeting with schools and volunteer partners, attending Back to School events, organizing our libraries, and creating innovative strategies to make sure we are ready to deliver excellent programs to our students. One of the greatest joys of the year is visiting our partner schools to see our students after the summer and help cultivate excitement for the new school year.

Starting school can carry very different meanings to each student. For some, this is a time of increased routine, more consistent expectations, and a safe and fun environment to learn. For others, the start of school can cause anxiety, fear, or nervousness. WITS strives to provide an atmosphere for all of our students where they can take ownership over their time, choose books that are interesting to them, and feel proud of the progress they make over the course of the year. Attending Back to School events is a great opportunity for the Program Team to touch base with our schools and remind students of the opportunity to be a part of WITS for the year.

Back to School Bash at William H. Brown School of Technology

Last week, the students at Brown were welcomed for the new year at the Back to School Bash in the school’s courtyard. Families, school staff, and community partners gathered to kick off the 2019-2020 school year with food, activities, resource tables, music, and community. Complete with bouncy houses, a DJ, backpacks for all returning students, uniform distribution, and a full-blown barbecue, the energy was high as people hugged and reunited for the coming school year. Ms. Lyons, the Principal at Brown, could be seen conversing with students and families, a warm yet strong force at the helm of this wonderful school.

Principal Lyons with WITS Program Coordinator Ana

When speaking about the partnership between her school and WITS, Lyons says, “If I had to sum up what WITS means to Brown, I would have to say THE WORLD! To have an organization that invests in the lives of the students has been immensely valuable. How often do young people get to personally interact with a lawyer on a one-on-one weekly basis, without being in the criminal justice system? It’s a rarity. It’s really been a two-fold blessing: our students get to improve their reading fluency and comprehension while getting exposure to the field of law. Perhaps one day some of them will become lawyers!”

WITS at Brown

WITS partners with Brown for a Mid-Day Mentoring program, where third graders meet once a week with volunteer partners from McDermott Will & Emery to share books together, develop their literacy skills, and create strong relationships for the course of the school year. Inviting corporate partners to engage in Chicago’s neighborhood schools has powerful effects for both students and mentors. WITS programs allow students to form bonds with their mentors and work one-on-one in a safe space where they can develop their interest in reading, learn about the world around them, and reinforce skills they are learning in the classroom. Ms. Jones, the 3rd grade teacher at Brown last year, says, “Each week, my class really looked forward to spending quality literacy time with their mentors. I believe that these quality interactions supported their reading achievement and helped them to view themselves as capable readers.”

Students from Brown and volunteers from McDermott Will & Emery enjoy reading outside on a sunny day.
What the Students Have to Say

“We get to read lots of books with our mentors and I had lots of fun”

Quantell, incoming 4th grader

“My favorite time of reading with my partner was we had made up a reading game and it was fun. Every time someone reads, they can do a silly dance and then the next person reads and they do a silly dance. My favorite book that I read with my WITS partner was Helen Keller, the animated…yeah I am Helen Keller! Because some parts were true like a real chapter book and some parts were funny”

Raeshundrea, incoming 4th grader

“Reading, learning, having fun with you guys, reading more books, reading my favorite book – I don’t remember the name of it, but it was my favorite book. It was about a blind girl – she didn’t know she couldn’t talk, she was blind…yeah Helen Keller. And I had fun with my tutors, my WITS friends. Are they here?”

Beautifull, incoming 4th grader
Why Mid-Day Mentoring Matters

The expansion of our Mid-Day Mentoring journal has helped improve outcomes for the 3rd grade students who participate in the program. Students are able to connect the books they read during WITS to the skills and concepts they are learning in the classroom. By reinforcing these connections during their 45 minute program, in a space that is more relaxed and with a one-on-one focus, students can practice their reading skills in a nonjudgmental environment. This helps with their work in the classroom, as well as with standardized testing. Since our programs are built around student choice, they are in the driver’s seat, choosing books that interest them, deciding who reads aloud on a given day, and selecting a worksheet to practice.

WITS aim to set students on a trajectory for success starts with our values of consistency, community, and empowerment. We do this by not only providing books, but by creating supportive environments for students to practice their reading and build positive reading experiences with their mentors. Overall, this contributes to a positive culture of reading and growth in our students’ attitudes toward reading, something which will support their continued development as learners beyond their direct experiences with WITS.