By Michael Gomez
As a school with a social justice mission, Roosevelt University hosts programs to promote ideals of social justice. One program in particular has a mission of educating and shaping the youth – Working In The Schools (WITS).
WITS is an after-school program that gives local children one-on-one reading and mentoring with a volunteer from the RU community. Once a week, WITS takes about 15 to 20 students from Brownell Elementary, typically fourth and fifth graders.
They are dropped off at the university for each of them to be paired up with a volunteer from the program for the school year. The WITS and RU partnership was established in 2011.
Reading sessions are once a week for an hour and consists of multiple activities, reading and working on homework.
“WITS aligns with RU’s mission because it allows students, faculty and staff to distribute educational opportunities to underserved students,” project coordinator Kiara Hardin said. “WITS’ mission is to create opportunities for every student in Chicago to be literate.”
“The relationship is reciprocal. The students from Brownell benefit just as much as the RU participants,” Hardin said. “The Brownell students gain help with literacy and homework, as well as the opportunity to venture outside of their community. While the RU participants gain insight and exposure to youth from a community, they may never visit.”
The program felt that it can help stem the tide of low CPS college graduation rates by having the students exposed earlier to a college atmosphere.
“Kids get to see a university and learn about what it’s like to be a college student. Since they’re only in elementary school, they don’t necessarily realize that college is more than taking classes,” Hardin said.
Volunteers have also shown the elementary school students that in college student, you have the option to live on campus, participate in sports and other activities, and have a job, among other things.
Project coordinator Eleanor Dollear said it’s good to hear elementary students tal about their future plans. Dollear also said it’s good students are exposed to a college setting early.
“Regardless if they choose to attend Roosevelt or any university several years down the line, I think their love of reading that they developed at Roosevelt and the memories of having a mentor who consistently was there for them and believed in them will have a positive impact,” Dollear said.
For current Roosevelt students who are interested in volunteering their time to mentoring children in the WITS program, visit witschicago.org/volunteer.