WITS Virtual Program Orientation

Delaney EarleyPrograms, Volunteers

As WITS staff members plan for the new opportunities and challenges presented by this upcoming program year, one thing remains consistent: our dedication to creating a safe and joyful reading environment for students and mentors.  WITS is committed to ensuring volunteers feel prepared to be effective literacy mentors, particularly in our new virtual setting.  WITS Virtual Program Orientation is designed with this goal in mind.

In years past, WITS’ volunteer orientations were presented at the start of each program year to train volunteers in building strong relationships with their students and to provide the necessary tools to encourage reading level growth. This year’s Virtual Program Orientation is no exception. While our orientation remains grounded in WITS’ mission and values, there are a few notable additions to this year’s training.

WITS Virtual Program Logistics

At the onset of COVID-19, WITS began providing literacy resources to students and educators through a variety of virtual options. These early adaptations led WITS to launch real-time, virtual programs for the 2020-2021 school year. A portion of Virtual Program Orientation is dedicated to informing our volunteer community how this will work. Program logistics include:

  • Small groups of 1-2 mentors will support 2-3 students through Google Meet (CPS platform)
  • Mentors will use Epic! – an online book library – for shared reading with students
  • Program will be 30 to 45 minutes
  • A WITS staff member and partner teacher or school staff member will be logged on to each session to provide support and oversee group interactions

The first several weeks of program will be dedicated to team-building, getting comfortable with Google Meet and Epic!, and establishing norms and procedures. Though programs may look different this year, they remain student-centered and will follow a similar structure to previous program years, as the below graphic indicates.

WITS Values and Life in 2020

Consistency, Empowerment and Community. These three values underlie everything we do at WITS and provide the framework through which we train our volunteers. While our Virtual Program Orientation still follows a value-driven structure, an important message has been added. WITS is committed to being an anti-racist organization, acknowledging the racist structures that are in place in the education system at large, and using this framework to guide the training and resources that we provide to mentors.

Current events have brought the issues of public health, systemic racism, and our nation’s political divides to the forefront of public discourse, of which students are very much included. WITS believes that all students – regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, citizenship, or ability  – deserve the space to be themselves. For some, this space may include having conversations about the state of the world. Virtual Program Orientation is structured to help volunteers in creating safe and validating spaces to engage with their students’ thoughts, concerns, and questions.  This training includes sample dialogue, discussion questions, and a reminder that volunteers are not expected to have “the answer” to their students’ questions. For further guidance, volunteers are encouraged to reach out to the WITS staff member facilitating their program.


WITS is committed to meeting both our students and mentors where they are. Considering the shifting nature of many “work-from-home” schedules, we are offering our Virtual Program Orientation on ten different days, at various times. Orientation sessions include a chat feature, so volunteers can send their questions to WITS staff as they come to mind and receive answers within the session. Additionally, Virtual Program Orientation will be recorded, ensuring that all mentors have access to our updated training through WITS Volunteer Resource page.

Through Virtual Program Orientation, WITS is excited to introduce new and returning volunteers to this year’s unique reading mentoring program. At a time when students and mentors alike are separated from friends, classmates, and colleagues, virtual program will provide a safe and encouraging space for new connections to form and a shared love of reading to develop.


0 volunteers

from 67 corporate, university, and community partners.

Wits provides

0 hours

of professional development in literacy best practices to Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardees.


0 books

to the homes of students and classrooms of Rochelle Lee Teacher Awardees each year.

wits contributes a

$0 million

annual investment in Chicago Public Schools students and teachers.