WITS Beginnings: A Story from Founding Volunteer Ginny Carlson

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Editor’s note: Ginny and Roger Carlson are long-time WITS supporters and volunteers. As WITS CEO Tena Latona espoused in 2020, “As the CEO of an organization you hope for Board members like the Carlsons. They are the right amount of encouragement, thoughtful questioning, cheerleading, and strategic thinking that any leader of an organization would want to work with.” Below, Ginny shares her memories of WITS founding moments.

Ginny Carlson reading with a WITS Kindergarten student at Talcott Elementary.

One adult, one child, one book at a time. This is the beginning and the bottom line of what forms a design for teaching the joy of reading and enjoying a book.

We have all seen that glazed look when a child is looking at but not really seeing the words. Or, not really engaging with what is going on around them. One of my main jobs as a reading teacher was to show students how to turn those squiggly lines into a person, place or thing – by the mysterious process called “reading.”

The Carlsons Meet WITS Co-founders: Marion Stone & Joanne Alter

Thirty years ago, my husband Roger and I became neighbors of WITS co-founders Marion Stone & Joanne Alter, who were both very active in the city of Chicago. One of the activities that they introduced was the newly born organization called Working In The Schools (WITS). Because I was an Elementary School Teacher, they asked me to join them in forming this new organization. The goal of WITS was to work with elementary-aged children: helping them to learn how to sound out letters, form words, and eventually, learn how to read.

Pleased with the introduction to this new program, I decided it sounded just like what I was looking for. I was volunteering at Northwestern Hospital while also deeply involved with all four of our children’s school activities. This overfilled the blank time on my calendar.

The Beginning of WITS

Those early days were so exciting and so challenging. Every day was different, and every day was an adventure. WITS had very limited resources at the time. Also, we were working with students who had very little exposure to diverse books and cultural institutions. Many CPS students in the 90s were immigrants or first-generation Americans. Our first meetings were full of culture shock for students and volunteers alike. We quickly found that older community members and retirees, with their enthusiasm, lived experience, and flexible schedules – make great reading tutors! We were a group of people with leadership experience and the desire to make a difference. I believe that children are the leaders of tomorrow. As educators, it was and remains our duty to help students develop literacy and critical thinking skills that will empower them to be future community leaders.