At the center of everything WITS does are our three core values: consistency, empowerment, and community. One way that students are empowered is through the relationships they build with their mentors and the growth this inspires in them over the course of their time in WITS and beyond. From these relationships, students learn how to express themselves more clearly, be confident, and use their creativity and imagination. When WITS students experience these relationships, they are empowered to grow. These moments happen throughout our programs and are noticed not just by the students, but by their mentors and parents as well.
Young Learners Begin Their WITS Journey
At WITS’ Early Childhood Summer Program (ECSP), students begin developing meaningful literacy skills while learning classroom rules and making friends. Before entering kindergarten and first grade, ECSP students have a chance to work with mentors, WITS staff, and a teacher for two hours a day, four days a week, during a five-week period. ECSP students grow tremendously, becoming acquainted with how to behave in a classroom and interact with others. They also learn valuable lessons that they will be able to apply to other aspects of their lives, such as expressing themselves appropriately and listening to instructions. During Summer 2019, in the hope of involving families in WITS more, we began sending out weekly newsletters that highlighted what students learned and offered activities families could do together at home. We also created a parent feedback survey to learn how families saw WITS impacting their students’ development. We received insightful feedback that demonstrated real literacy growth of students in the eyes of their parents. Comments included:
“He is more creative visually and articulates his speech much better.”
“She is more confident and excited to come to camp each day. She is no longer scared to start school in the Fall.”
“They are more open with other children.”
“He is interested in stopping and reading sight words off signs and on print. We will now stop to sound words out.”
This feedback has been helpful to WITS because it demonstrates the broader impact of our programming on participating students’ lives. WITS is not just about improving reading level growth and attitudes towards reading, but also empowering students to articulate their thoughts, form relationships, and further engage with the world around them.
WITS Becomes a Part of Students’ Routines
Often times, ECSP students head directly into our WITS Kindergarten program in the fall, making WITS a part of their school routine. Meeting with mentors for 20 minutes each week, students get an extra opportunity to read and receive individual attention and support from their enthusiastic, consistent, new adult mentors. By third and fourth grades, when students begin making the crucial transition from learning how to read to reading to learn, WITS has become something normal that students expect and look forward to each week through either a Mid-Day Mentoring (MDM) or Workplace Mentoring program (WPM). The new relationships that students develop with their mentors in their weekly sessions encourage students to expand upon the literacy and personal skills they have begun acquiring in and out of school. The excitement students feel each week waiting for WITS increases at schools where WITS programming is layered and students have the opportunity to participate in WITS year after year.
While we see student improvement at our programs, receiving direct feedback from the parents and teachers who know our students best reaffirms that growth and the impact WITS has. In a letter from a parent whose student participated in both MDM and WPM, one mother thanked WITS and her son’s mentors for helping him with his self-esteem and ability to express himself. As a third grader, in the midst of a difficult year, his time in the Perez Elementary School WPM program served as the highlight of his year and provided him with the strength and courage to do a first reading at his First Communion Mass.
“My son is a good young boy with a great heart and a great imagination, but struggles to socialize well with his classmates … . So, going to WITS and talking with his mentors really helped him feel good about himself and expressing himself freely to them. … Recently my son was chosen to do the first reading at his First Communion Mass. Although he was nervous, he read at the pulpit and did a very nice job, with such great expression and clarity.”
WITS Inspires Students Beyond Program
Many students are further inspired and remain in our WPM program for multiple years. At the Fairfield Elementary Academy WPM program, 8th grade student Di’Anna and her mentor from the Federal Reserve Bank, Bernadette, have been partnered together for the past three years! During this time they have grown together and built a consistent and empowering relationship. Bernadette shared, “How wonderful it has been to watch Di’Anna develop a love of reading.”
Many of the lessons that students learn in WITS follow them as they progress through school. Diamond, a former Workplace Mentoring student at LEARN Hunter Perkins College Prep Elementary School, is a perfect example of that. Now a sophomore at De La Salle Institute, she took the speaking and time-management skills that she learned in WITS with her to high school. Reflecting back on her time with Diamond in our program, Annie Kennedy, our WITS Community Manager, said, “[Diamond] was intelligent, cheerful, and inquisitive. Diamond and her mentor, Dorothy, hit it off almost immediately, and together, they were able to build on all of the amazing things that Diamond was already doing.”
Both Annie and Diamond’s mentor Dorothy were happy to hear about Diamond’s current success in high school. Dorothy shared, “I am so proud of her, and not at all surprised by her success. I know that Diamond will continue to do us proud and actualize her potential.” Diamond embodies the spirit of WITS and now strives to become a criminal justice lawyer so she can help others. She admits, “I wouldn’t be the student that I am at De La Salle today if it wasn’t for the WITS program.” We hope that, like Diamond, all students who pass through WITS grow and learn valuable lessons that they can take with them outside of our programs to find success in their lives.