The 2020-2021 WITS Virtual Program year brought together students and volunteers for shared reading, mentorship, and community building. These are the staples of a traditional WITS program! Each week, students and mentors met as teams of readers and discovered new books using EPIC!, a robust online library. Time in small groups helped students practice their literacy skills. These groups also served as a consistent space to connect with peers and have fun during a year of change and uncertainty.
480 students across 20 Chicago Public Schools participated in WITS Virtual Program. Throughout the year, students and mentors formed and reflected upon reading goals. They and got to know one another through a variety of check-in questions and activities. As the 2020-21 school year came to a close, program time was structured to provide reading teams with the space to recognize their many successes. Students shared their favorite books, what they enjoyed about reading in teams, and what advice they would give to future WITS students. Among other activities, reading teams engaged in show and tell, summer-themed scavenger hunts, and trivia competitions to celebrate the end of the program year.
While there were many intangible causes for celebration this year, the following data points from the end of year student survey are worth highlighting. 80% of students reported that they feel comfortable or very comfortable reading out loud at WITS. 81% said that participating in WITS made them want to read for fun more. Finally, 93% of students said that reading with their mentors made them feel good or even very good. Holistically, mentors noted improvement in their students’ reading confidence, comprehension, and fluency. These indicators demonstrate that WITS Virtual Program helped foster reading growth and an increased enjoyment of reading.
At WITS, all accomplishments are significant—whether a student becomes more willing to read out loud in front of their peers, shows enthusiasm in selecting and discussing a book, or is simply excited to return to program each week to catch up with their mentors. In a year of social separation, WITS Virtual Program stood in the gap. We provided a space for connection, joy, laughter, and memorable shared reading experiences for students and mentors alike.