WITS Mentors reflect what it means to volunteer

By Jordan Geriane

Mentoring and supporting Chicago Public School students one day at a time
Photo Courtesy of eNews Park Forest.

As the Working in the Schools (WITS) program starts up its second semester of the school year at Roosevelt, students and staff members have started reflecting on how much of a beneficial experience the program has been for them.

The WITS mentors of Roosevelt have provided time and effort to help students build their literacy and study skills in and out of the classroom. Their mentees, fourth to sixth graders from Brownell Elementary School in Park Manor, come once a week for the program held on campus.  Many of these mentors this semester are returning volunteers to the program, and they have already built strong relationships with their designated mentee.

Jane Lanier, a professor within the CCPA Musical Theater Conservatory, has been helping students for six years, with her dedication and consistency with the program showcased by the students who come to visit.

“Consistency along with joy goes a long way,” Lanier said. “To show up each week and give them your full attention for that hour is the most beneficial thing a mentor can do– just ‘be there.”’

It is typical to have a mentee who is initially shy and unsure of what to expect from the program or from the mentors. However, by the end of the semester, they are much more comfortable and engaged. They are used to reading out loud and start to enjoy it, even if they did not like it at first.

“Last week, two students told me that they wished the program could be two days a week instead of just one. I loved hearing that,” Lanier said.

Many of the mentors who volunteer hope to make an impact on the students who come from Brownell. Although the number of visiting students is quite small, the mentors find that this smaller community established at Roosevelt creates for a more devoted and familiar learning environment for the students.

Kaelyn Schulz, an academic advisor, joined WITS in 2017. As an English major, she said she loves reading and wants to help her mentee improve their reading skills while potentially discover a lifelong interest in reading.

Despite that, Schulz said her favorite thing about the program is listening to her mentee share stories about their day at school or their life.

“Listening is one of the most important things you can do for your mentee,” Schulz said. “Listening, asking questions, showing an interest in their life and giving praise are all ways you can build up their confidence.”

Allison Ford, a sophomore early education major, as well as a peer mentor, has had plenty of experience with being a strong support system for her fellow mentees.

“Letting them know you’re around to talk to about whatever is important. Creating a connection between them and others at school is so valuable,” Ford said.

Academic Advisor Courtney WIlliams said that doing both has allowed her to build a more comfortable and secure connection with her students.

By the end of the semester, it is very easy for Williams to distinguish the difference in her students from the start of the program as they are much more comfortable with reading at a higher level than they were at the beginning. They are even excited to crack open a new book.

At first glance, being a mentor to students at WITS is nothing more than a simple volunteering gig, but to many of the devoted mentors, WITS is about making an impact and giving back.

The positive outcomes of one-on-one mentoring, consistency and active support show a great deal in WITS students improvement of reading as well as empowered confidence.

WITS coordinator, Eleanor Dollear attested to these positive outcomes with statistics demonstrating WITS students’ improvement:

“Over the past 3 years, 68 percent of WITS students surpassed the national average for annual reading level growth,” Dollear said. “65 percent of WITS students also reported an improvement in overall attitude toward reading and reading behavior (ie reading out loud, reading during a test, reading to learn, etc.)”

Dollear then added on that thanks to these mentors, she has noticed consistent and significant improvement in their literary motivations.

Williams added in saying, “These children have dreams and aspirations, so it is important to help guide and encourage them to achieve anything they want to do out of life.”

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