In my years as a proponent of literacy and creative self-expression through writing and the arts, I’ve learned a lot and been inspired by a world of energizing, insightful, and creative students, teachers, administrators, and collaborating artists. Some organizations I have worked and/or volunteered with include Working In the Schools (or WITS), Literacy Chicago, and InsideOut Literary Arts Project (based in Detroit). I look forward to introducing you to the work of these groups in future posts.
Coincidentally, some years ago I visited Houston, Texas with InsideOut Literary Arts Project and met the fine people who lead another organization also known as WITS. The WITS in Houston stands for Writers in the Schools, and you can read more about them by visiting their site here.
If you read my post about sardines you may be curious about WITS, the literacy organization I have volunteered with for two years. Two weeks ago was my last of the 2015-2016 school year to read one-on-one with the four kindergartners who have brightened my Tuesday mornings since September. Even though it’s time to let this school year go, a part of me is going to miss my little reading buddies. I’m not permitted to post their names or photographs on my personal blog but I wish that I could. Instead, I will introduce you to WITS, and Laura Tilsner, who works as a Program Coordinator, there. This year Laura coordinated the program at Dulles Elementary School, where I got to read with students from Kindergarten Room 107.
The Chicago-based WITS is an organization with a mission “to promote literacy and a love of learning in Chicago Public School elementary students through a volunteer-powered, outcomes-based portfolio of programs. WITS endeavors to bridge the achievement and opportunity gap for underserved students through building connections with positive adult role models.” (to read WITS’s non-abbreviated mission statement, visit their website by clicking here).
A few of the great outcomes for students in WITS programs include:
*developing confidence and positive attitudes toward reading, reading behaviors, AND classroom participation;
*building improved knowledge of book and print concepts; and
*having improved ability to participate in imaginative play and interacting with texts.
Realizing that the school year was fast drawing to a close, I asked Laura Tilsner if she would mind being featured here on folklore & literacy and she obliged by speedily responding to my questions and allowing me to take her photo with my phone.
1. I see you transporting storage containers of books, leading our charges from their classrooms and back, and reading with some of the students, but what exactly are your responsibilities as Program Coordinator?
“As a program coordinator, I run and facilitate programs on site. This includes coordinating students and volunteers, providing a space with materials for the program, while also working together with teachers and the school itself.”
2. How did you come to work in the field of literacy and why?
“I have always been passionate about working with children and have been working in the non-profit sector since my sophomore year of college. I was also one of those students who struggled with reading in elementary school and required constant attention and assistance. WITS’s mission aligns with my passion to help young students in any aspect of their life. This reading program emphasizes my passion even more.”
3. What is most important to you about the work that you do?
“The most important thing about my work is that students are having fun while being encouraged to do their best in a safe, fun, and educational environment. I get to be a part of a bigger picture in helping the youth of Chicago succeed. That is ultimately the best thing I could do.”
4. Name a book that you love.
“Oh my goodness. Hands down my favorite book will always be Tuesday’s with Morrie. It is a heartfelt story and I just loved everything about it.”
5. Is there an idea that you dislike, or a paradigm you would like to see change?
“This is a big question. If anything to change, it is how people would view the world. Though I cannot change individual minds and thought processes, it would be for everyone to follow the idea of the golden rule: treat everyone as you would want to be treated. We are no better than anyone else out there. We are all equal in my mind.”
Thank you, Laura!