How It Started
Working in the Schools (WITS) began in a single classroom in 1991 when two civic leaders, Joanne Alter and Marion Stone, visited a friend who taught at Byrd Academy. When asked what would benefit her classroom the most, the teacher requested that Joanne and Marion read one-on-one with her students. The Alter-Stone duo soon began recruiting more volunteers from their wide social networks throughout Chicago, intent on deepening their impact on Chicago schools. Synchronously, Chicago librarian Rochelle Lee was inspiring generations of students and parents through her passion for reading. She inspired a namesake program, the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award, which provides teachers with the training and resources needed to inspire a love of reading in students. These three change agents - Alter, Stone, and Lee - filled an urgent need for community supported youth literacy programs by promoting a love of reading and learning in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system. They laid the foundation for the WITS we know and love today: empowering students through mentorship and providing teachers with crucial training and resources. In 2015, these two programs combined under the WITS umbrella to create a holistic approach to literacy in the classroom, setting students on a trajectory for success by building critical literacy skills and developing positive self-identity through teacher-led professional development and volunteer-powered mentorship programs.
How It’s Going
Since its founding, WITS has grown from a handful of committed Chicagoans to more than 1,500 mentors – making WITS the largest volunteer group serving CPS elementary schools. On the occasion of our 30th anniversary, we are thrilled to recognize two honorees: the Chicago White Sox as Corporate Partner of the Year and the WITS Associates Board as Alter & Stone Volunteers of the Year. We welcome you to join us in celebrating our 30th Anniversary of Building Communities and Empowering Readers. We could not be more honored to recognize these two entities for their years of commitment to our mission.
WITS believes that literacy is the foundation on which all other learning is built. However, only 35% of fourth grade students in Illinois read at grade level, with only 20% of low-income students meeting proficiency. WITS is the literacy nonprofit best positioned to make a significant impact on literacy rates in Chicago and was one of the only organizations to deliver weekly virtual volunteer programs to CPS Elementary Schools during the tumultuous 2020-21 school year. WITS aims to instill in students a lifelong passion for reading through longitudinal programming. Impactful programs offered during the 2020-2021 school year include: Early Childhood Summer Program (ECSP), WITS Kindergarten Online, Empowering Readers at Home, Virtual Programs, and both the Rochelle Lee Teacher Award Study Groups and Summer Institute.
Where We’re Headed
WITS has stayed relevant over the past 30 years because we stay agile and evolve alongside the needs of the communities we serve. In 2021 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. We are eternally grateful to our thought partners in the development of this strategic plan, the Boston Consulting Group Center for Illinois' Future (BCG). The in-kind donation of BCG’s services is the single largest gift of any kind that the organization has ever recognized. This visionary strategic plan will guide WITS’ next 30 years of success.
We are also continuously sustained by the unwavering support of our invaluable corporate partners and multitude of community volunteers. WITS upholds the vision and passion of our founders by building relationships between students and mentors through one-on-one literacy support. We believe that connecting people from across real and perceived boundaries builds empathy, civic-mindedness, and cultural humility. Please join the WITS community in celebrating the accomplishments of the past three decades and raising a toast to the next chapter in our story at the WITS 30th Anniversary Celebration on Saturday, December 11.
In 30 years wits has brought together over
In celebration of 30 years of WITS, we are launching the 30th Anniversary Honor Roll, an opportunity for WITS supporters to join together and make a commitment to continue WITS legacy for the next 30 years. These gifts are a wonderful way to provide financial support for WITS' future, and recognize all the work that has led us to where we are today.
join the celebration!
Over the next several months, WITS will host events to celebrate the accomplishments of the past three decades.
90s Themed Workout!
For 30 years WITS has been partnering with teachers and volunteers to learn and grow as educators and mentors.
Please join us on February 2nd at 4pm CST for our next WITS Talks: Building Literacy Across Languages. This workshop shares best teaching practices to support multilingual students' reading success. Participants will learn how to help students build their personal reading identities by leveraging their experiences, interests, and motivations. In addition, participants will discuss the relationship between a student's oracy and literacy, and how to improve reading as meaning-making. Participants will leave the training with ready-to-use activities and resources that they can implement into their setting right away.
support our next 30 years
WITS has stayed relevant over the past 30 years because we stay agile and evolve alongside the needs of the communities we serve. In 2021 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. This visionary strategic plan will guide WITS’ next 30 years of success. By investing in WITS, your charitable contribution will have far-reaching impact on Chicago students and teachers.