WITS Switch Days: Exploring Communities

Sara MartinezPartnerships, Programs

WITS Switch Days: Exploring Outside Communities

WITS programming allows students and mentors to create long-lasting connections through reading. These connections usually take place in either a school or at a corporate office. During Mid-Day Mentoring, students and volunteers read in a school library or classroom. Volunteers and students work in a conference room at their corporate offices during Workplace Mentoring. However, sometimes students and mentors break from this norm during a WITS Switch Day.  

What is a WITS Switch Day?

Switch Days flip the WITS program model for one session. For example, instead of students going downtown on a bus to see their mentors at their offices, mentors get on a bus and go to their student’s school. This allows students to show their mentors around their school and a glimpse into their lives outside program. However, there are lots of different types of switch days WITS students and mentors can participate in besides this flip in the program model. Learn more below! 

Literacenter Visits

Last year, WITS expanded our Switch Days to include hosting our Workplace Mentoring program at our office at the Literacenter. Instead of students and mentors meeting at a corporate office downtown, both groups meet at the WITS office for an hour of reading and homework help. At program, WITS staff often talk about where they work and the in-house libraries where they pull books from, giving students and mentors the opportunity to see those libraries in person, as well as learn what happens behind the scenes to make WITS programs happen . 

In early March, our Fairfield Elementary Academy students joined their mentors from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago for a field trip at the Literacenter. Program began with an overview of the Literacenter and its purpose, and then the group learned more about the WITS office and how the staff utilizes the space. Students and mentors were eager to dive into the book bins in our libraries, and then they spread out around the Literacenter to read and do homework.  

Aastha Rajan, who is a first-year WITS mentor, commented that she loved the bright colors in the Literacenter. “It’s a very inviting space to be in,” she said. Students were excited to work in a new setting as well. Fairfield 6th grader Jose said that he would like to work in a place like the Literacenter someday. 

Office Tours

Another type of Switch Day takes place when mentors give WITS students a tour around the host company’s offices. Instead of reading in their regular program space – often a conference room or common area – students tour around the company and get to see where their mentors work. Students are always very excited to get a chance to explore their mentor’s offices and get a glimpse into what their mentors do while not at program.  It’s also a great opportunity for them to learn about different roles at the company and talk with employees who aren’t a part of the program about what their company does. 

End-of-Year Field Trips

WITS programs host end-of-year parties for students and mentors to celebrate their successes and close out a fun year of reading and learning. During these parties, students receive brand-new books to add to their at-home libraries to continue reading over the summer. Both the Mid-Day Mentoring and Workplace Mentoring programs can opt-in to have a Switch Day fieldtrip as their last day of program.  

For the past few years, Kirkland & Ellis host the Manierre third grade students at their offices for an end-of-year field trip. All the volunteers, students, and teachers gather in their newly renovated office space and enjoy eating delicious pizza, reading their brand-new books, and receiving reading certificates. The offices overlook the Chicago River, and students and mentors spend a lot of time peering out the windows watching boats glide past reflecting on their favorite memories. It was a perfect end to the program year. 

The last day of the GCM Grosvenor and Cook Workplace Mentoring program always happens outside the GCM Grosvenor offices at historical places around the city. For example, students and mentors were able to explore the Museum of Modern Art two years ago and went on a private tour of the Newberry Library last year. These fieldtrips are a great way for students to connect to things they’ve read about during the program year with their mentors. After exploring the spaces, students and mentors chatted about their favorite parts of the tours, reminisced about their favorite memories from the year, and enjoyed reading the WITSummer books they received.   

Why Switch Days Matter

Letting students break from the normal program models and giving them access to different communities can help them make connections to the real world and life after school. WITS staff hope these are learning opportunities for both students and mentors and spark a desire to learn more about the world around them that they may not have had access to before.