WITS Begins Summer Programs to Build Reading Confidence in Time for First Day of Kindergarten

Brenda Langstraat
Brenda Langstraat, CEO of Working in the Schools (WITS). (Photo Provided)
CHICAGO—(ENEWSPF)—May 17, 2018
By: Mika Stambaugh

When most elementary schools are closing their doors this summer, Chicago’s widest-reaching literacy non-profit WITS (Working In The Schools) will be helping seven CPS schools stay open for an extra five weeks for their summer program.

Since 2012, WITS has run the Early Childhood Summer Program (ECSP), an immersive five-week experience that provides literacy support to rising kindergarten students. Primarily low-income families receive this free service. The WITS “kindergarten readiness” model focuses on proficiency in early literacy skills, such as: book and print concepts, first sound fluency, letter identification, letter sound identification, phonological awareness and rhyming.

WITS utilizes best practices to implement ECSP successfully:
• Each day, the young readers rotate through short activities that hold their attention, like daily read-alouds and four learning centers (reading, sound, play and observation).
• WITS builds in time for play, an essential component to students’ development.
• Fairytales embedded in the ECSP curriculum spark students’ curiosity. Each week, staff and students explore a modern version of a classic tale, such as Goldilocks and Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood and Little Red Hen.
• ZOOphonics, a kinesthetic method of teaching the alphabet, helps students build phonemic awareness and letter recognition skills.

Testing determined that in 2017 ECSP students made major strides. The number of letter sounds that students could correctly identify in one minute’s time rose from seven sounds (pre-ECSP) to 15 sounds (post-ECSP). Comparatively, non-ECSP students’ performance increased only three letter sounds per minute. ECSP students also outperformed their peers in gains in book and print awareness, first sound fluency, rhyme recognition and more. All of this takes place in a space that is safe and inviting to students. Last year, 90% of parents reported they strongly agree their children were excited to attend the program.

Without comprehensive access to early childhood programs throughout CPS, WITS ECSP is an important model that prepares students for the structure of a kindergarten classroom. For many students served in this program it is their first exposure to the learning environment and interacting with adults and peers outside of familial relationships. ECSP excels at building early literacy skills as well as building students self-regulation, learning stamina, and interpersonal knowledge – key developmental components for students in this age group.

For WITS and each partner school, it’s imperative that kindergarteners show up ready to succeed on their first day. Schools that will host WITS this summer include: George Manierre Elementary, John A. Walsh Elementary, John B. Drake Elementary, Jose de Diego Elementary Community Academy, Mancel Talcott Elementary, McAuliffe Elementary and William G. Hibbard Elementary.

About WITS:
WITS is a Chicago non-profit that sets students on a trajectory for success by building critical literacy skills and developing positive self-identity through teacher-led professional development and volunteer powered mentorship programs. Through an inter-connected network of staff, teachers and volunteers across 80 CPS schools, WITS has the largest footprint of any literacy organization in Chicago. Private funds cover 100 percent of WITS work, with zero reliance on school or city budgets. WITS believe that the model of pipelines of mentors across different schools can establish the tone and culture in schools for all students to become literate. Using these models, WITS staff, teachers and volunteers have built and sustained a community that creates opportunities for thousands of CPS students to become literate.