Through the Chicago-based organization Working In The Schools (WITS), Roosevelt offers a program every Tuesday, from 3:20 p.m. to 4:20 p.m., for students and staff to tutor and help fourth and fifth graders read.
WITS works to have a completely literate Chicago or, at least, provide opportunities to every single child to be literate. The organization was founded by Joanne Alter and Marion Stone 25 years ago. Alter and Stone simply started by helping out a friend who was a teacher by providing one on one reading for students at Byrd Academy. As they saw the student grow in their reading abilities, Alter and Stone decided to start WITS in order to gather more volunteers to help students read. It has now ballooned into helping 80 schools across the city.
There are multiple programs to support the literacy of the students, including ones for teachers. Eleanor Dollear, the WITS program coordinator, said, “We work with teachers to provide them with free professional development and books for their classroom libraries. And then we also have many volunteer college programs where we pair students and mentors together for a school year. Then we pair students and mentors from kindergarten through eighth grade where they read together and get to know each other through books and other activities through the school.”
WITS works to reach beyond the schools and into the homes, as well, providing opportunities for students to practice at home. The organization help student retain their reading skills over the breaks, as well, offering books to the students to take home.
“At winter break and before summer break, we give students books to take home so they can continue reading over their vacations and they can fill their at-home libraries also. So those are theirs to keep. Also, we’ll tell them about the library and how to get a library card because if they love a book, there might be a sequel or multiple sequels and the library is free. So, we encourage them to learn about that if they haven’t already,” Dollear said.
The college mentor program allows students and staff of colleges the opportunity to volunteer and help elementary schoolers in their learning. The student can not only improve their reading, but also see a glimpse into what college is like.
“I think students get to see how awesome college is. They’re only in elementary school and Brownell, which is the school they come from, talks about college with their students, but this group of students actually get to visit the school. They get to see all the awesome things that Roosevelt has to offer, like you can live on campus or you can eat on campus. You can join a dance group or a sports team and that’s all part of the college experience, so they get firsthand opportunities to see what college is like,” Dollear said.
Dollear had nothing but compliments for the volunteer at Roosevelt, commenting on their effort and dedication.
“The Roosevelt mentors are just really awesome and kids just really look forward to visiting them every week. Just having an adult in their life who cares about them and who’s taking an hour out of their week every week to hang out with them is really meaningful to a kid. They understand that that’s a big commitment and it just makes you feel good that an adult wants to do that and they’re usually different from you in a variety of different and it’s just great to have an opportunity to get to know somebody different from you and somebody who just cares for you wants to answers your questions and wants to see you succeed,” Dollear said.
This program will continue into the spring semester and there will be a chance for new volunteers to help mentor the kids. “We’ll probably be looking for more volunteers then because, typically, we have a few volunteers who aren’t able to continue for the second semester because their schedule are changed or something like that. It’ll be the same, Tuesdays at 3:20 p.m. to 4:20 p.m.,” Dollear said. “I think it’s just a really fun time because Brownell students are just so fun and smart and funny.”