WITS Gears up for Student-Centered Virtual Programs

Jesse AltmanPrograms

Over the past few months, we, as a society, have rearranged our lives to deal with COVID-19, and WITS is no different. While apart, we work hard to create and maintain a sense of togetherness in the WITS community.

Through every decision WITS makes, we put our students and their families and teachers at the forefront. As we prepare for WITS Virtual Program, we reflect back on what WITS students appreciated most about program and what they are most excited about for WITS this year to ensure programs support student interests and needs.

Drawing Inspiration from Past WITS Student Experiences

In order to ensure that virtual programs aligned with student expectations, we need to remind ourselves about what our students are most getting out of WITS:

“I like coming to WITS every week because it has a lot of books I can chose from. I like comic books and you have a lot of those!” – Bakarus, 3rd grade, Washington Irving WPM

“I like coming to WITS every week because it has a lot of books I can chose from. I like comic books and you have a lot of those!”

Bakarus, 3rd grade, Washington Irving WPM

“It’s cool that I have John as a partner again because I thought I was going to have to meet someone new but I didn’t! It’s nice having the same mentor again. I like that you get to finish your homework during WITS.”

Carlos, 4th grade, Washington Irving WPM

What we have been able to draw from past students’ thoughts is that students love working with and getting to know their mentors and that they love having the time to read a lot of new books and get homework done. With these thoughts, we moved forward and started preparing a virtual program model that incorporates students’ favorite aspects of WITS. We are doing this, in part, by providing students with a larger library of books and creating a setting for fun, inclusive community-building activities. and now look to see where students are at now and what they are looking forward to at WITS this year after programs ended so abruptly in the spring.

What WITS Students are Excited about this Year

Like all other years, WITS is planning meet and greets for program staff to meet with students and tell them what WITS is going to look like and how they can participate. While this year’s meet and greets will be held virtually instead of in-person, we are eager to find out what students think about the prospect of continuing WITS in a virtual setting.  WITS Program Staff have already began to meet with students in early October to ask what they were enthusiastic about for WITS this year. Fourth grade student Nathalie at Rodolfo Lozano Bilingual & International Center looks forward to reading with partners and her classmate Andres responded, “I’m excited about what kind of fun books we’re going to be reading together.”

Why Student Experience During Program is Fundamental to WITS’ Values

In addition to student needs and interests, WITS centers our program planning around our three core values: community, empowerment, and consistency. As the quotes above demonstrated, WITS students value the sense of partnership that they develop with their mentors throughout the school year. To ensure that this strong sense of togetherness is not lost in our virtual program, WITS is modifying its program model and transitioning from mentors working one on one with a student to students and mentors working and reading together in small groups of 1-2 mentors and 2-3 students on Google Meet. WITS believes these groups will enable students and mentors to foster a sense of community by giving students and mentors an opportunity to get to know new classmates and coworkers, explore reading interests together, and work together as a small team to read, complete activities, and build stronger camaraderie. By utilizing the online library platform Epic!, with more than 40,000 books, students will  have access to a vast array of fun and interesting books unlike ever before. And as one of our WITS partner teachers, Ms. Guzman, shared, “Even though we are going remote this year, and it’s not our usual school year, there are some things we’re trying to still keep normal…and WITS is one of them.”

The evolution of WITS programming to a virtual model enables us to maintain a level of consistency in the lives of CPS students who are accustomed to WITS being a part of their school experience year after year. No matter how WITS changes, we will continue to meet the needs of our students and amplify their voices to maximize their WITS experience.

WITS provides literacy programming at no cost to Chicago neighborhood elementary schools.

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