WITS began in a single classroom. When founders, Joanne Alter and Marion Stone, asked a neighborhood educator what they could do to most benefit her students, the answer was simple: read. Following the lead of their partner teacher, they developed a rapport with the students, building trust and bringing joy as they read one-on-one together.
For 30 years, as we’ve grown from a handful of volunteers to more than 1,500 mentors annually – WITS remains committed to providing support for our students and teachers.
A study released in December 2020 by McKinsey & Company indicates that pandemic-induced unfinished learning is not experienced equally. Trends show that, “while white students are expected to be four to eight months behind, students of color may be six to twelve months behind by June 2021,” widening existing gaps in learning and achievement. WITS seeks to disrupt literacy disparities in the city of Chicago by exclusively serving Chicago Public Schools, starting enrichment programs early and remaining consistent throughout students’ academic journeys.
Schools are now recalibrating services to meet students where they are to overcome unfinished learning gaps and help students move forward. Free, accessible enrichment programs such as WITS give Chicago Public Schools students the boost they need to stay connected to their education, their schoolwork, and one another.
Since its founding, WITS has focused on serving as many schools and students as possible. Our rapid growth elevated WITS as a leader in advancing CPS literacy outcomes, attracting support from Chicago’s corporate and philanthropic communities. Today, WITS is the largest volunteer group providing literacy programming to CPS, and we take that responsibility seriously. WITS is now honing our approach by designing and facilitating programs that drive student outcomes. Our three key areas of long-term focus include:
- Quality and Impact: Narrow WITS’ portfolio of programs to highest-impact programs; invest in impact evaluation; and improve internal operations
- Reach and Scale: Increase program layering at individual schools; and build out the community volunteer pipeline so that our mentors reflect the school communities we serve
- Re-imagination: Expand family involvement; emphasize WITS as a provider of full-school enrichment; explore online and virtual options as a means of expanding support