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Ken Story

Meet Our Scholar Salma

Meet Our Scholar: Salma

Meet Our Scholar: Salma 618 368 Ken Story

Age: 5
Grade: Kindergarten
Favorite Book: I Want My Hat Back

Though small in stature, Salma brings a huge personality everywhere she goes. “Whenever Salma walked into class, she always exuded the most confidence I had ever seen in a four year old,” says Jack, her former teacher at Way to Grow’s P.A.L.S. preschool. Despite excelling academically, Salma struggled to adjust to the other kids in her preschool class. “She really just wanted to be around other adults,” Jack recalls. It was by participating in classroom tasks and activities that Salma finally found her place among her peers.

Salma’s willingness to help her classmates channeled her commanding personality into a strong, natural classroom leader. 

Shamsa and Ali, Salma’s parents, are very proactive in their children’s education. Having been with Way to Grow for a number of years, Shamsa affirms that educating a family takes a village. “Strong community and learning environments for all help shape our children,” she states. That’s where Way to Grow and P.A.L.S. came in.

“My favorite Way to Grow memory is funny,” Shamsa remembers. “Salma and I had to have a conversation about how much she was talking. We told her that she could come off as too talkative, and that she needed to give others the opportunity to speak. She looked up at us and said, ‘No Mommy, it’s okay. I won best speaker at school, so it is okay if I talk.’”

Curious and adventurous, Salma was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up and she immediately responded, “A photographer!” When asked why, she replied, “Because I really like pictures, and I know I’m going to be good at it!” With that kind of confidence and drive, we know Salma is going to go far, both as a student and a leader.

2019 Advocacy Day for Children

2019 Advocacy Day for Children 2560 1920 Ken Story

Advocacy for Children Day celebrates early learning and gives parents, teachers, early care and education professionals, and communities from across the state an opportunity to come together and be a voice for Minnesota’s children.

As part of Way to Grow’s My Voice Matters initiative, led by the MinneMinds Coalition, our staff and members of families we serve rallied at the Capitol in support of equitable, child-centered, parent-directed, mixed delivery approaches to state policies affecting families and children.

The 2019 policy agenda of MinneMinds leads efforts to improve and support: 

Quality: Parent Aware and Kindergarten Entry Profile

  • Fully fund Parent Aware to continue the expansion of high-quality early learning programs throughout Minnesota with a priority on stronger recognition and incorporation of culturally relevant needs.
  • Support and fund state-wide expansion and implementation of a culturally and linguistically relevant Kindergarten Entry Profile (KEP) via approved assessment tools.

Access: Early Learning Scholarships

  • Support efforts to expand scholarships that meet the needs of low-income children from birth to 5 years old and prioritize children with the highest needs.
  • Make early learning scholarships more flexible to ensure children and families have access to quality early learning.

Access: Home Visiting

  • Increase access, flexibility, and funding for targeted home visiting programs.
  • Increase collaboration and coordination among home visiting and early childhood providers to improve outcomes for families.

Access: Provider Pipeline and Workforce Growth

  • Increase funding for grants, tax credits, and policies for early childhood providers.

Access: Childcare Assistance Program (CCAP)

  • Support family and provider-friendly provisions of federal reauthorization and serve more CCAP eligible families.
  • Ensure CCAP eligibility and access for families who are experiencing homelessness.

Way to Grow attendees received a tour of the Capitol, heard from legislators, experts in the education field, and other parents on the impact that early education has on their lives and our communities. Lastly, everyone in attendance was given a call to action and tips on how to contact their legislators when advocating for early education.  Find those tips here, and to learn more about Way to Grow’s My Voice Matters initiative, contact Megan McLaughlin at 612-874-4740, or at

Meet the Scholar Wicahpi

Meet our Scholar: Wicahpi

Meet our Scholar: Wicahpi 618 368 Ken Story

Age: 7
Grade: 1st
Favorite Book: Uncover A Shark

While culture resides in the souls and hearts of its people, when it is infused into one’s education it can create beautiful experiences and brighter futures. Wicahpi (Woe – Chah – Pi), otherwise known as Choppy, is a great example that at a young age one can demonstrate an excellent balance of understanding their roots, engaging in education, and creating learning environments of inclusion.

Continually performing at or above grade level in all of his subjects, learning was never an issue for Wicahpi.  Rather, his issues revolved around his self-confidence. “Having the social skills and and the ability to express himself were his struggles,” says his great aunt and caregiver Binesikwe. “Choppy had all the tools and resources he needed within him to succeed in school.  He just needed a push in confidence and positive affirmations to empower his spirit into the student he is today, and Way to Grow was a big part of that.”

Binesikwe credits Way to Grow, and specifically their Family Educator Alison, on making Native American culture an important part of his educational experience. “It makes it more personal and special that Choppy is learning through an Indigenous lens,” she says.  “At seven, he has not only recognized how important his culture is, but he has taken a proactive interest in participating and helping others learn as well.  Way to Grow has helped bolster the cultural values within his learning by having a Native American Family Educator like Alison who knows firsthand how important it is.”

Described as intelligent, social, and witty, Wicahpi has no problem sharing what he has learned through a fun-spirited approach, but he also shares the stage with his classmates because he is very interested in learning from them as well. “He looks for opportunities to absorb information. It doesn’t matter if you are an adult or another child. If he’s got something he can show you and you’ve got something you can show him, he is present and engaged,” says his Way to Grow Family Educator Alison.

We know that Wicahpi will be one to watch in the future, because it is ingrained in his spirit and genes.  He was named after his great uncle Wichahpi Ohitika which means “Brave Star” in Lakota.  So with an open-mind, new-found confidence, and a willing curiosity to understand the communities and world around him – we cannot wait to see how brightly this star will shine!

Join Us at Play to Grow!

Join Us at Play to Grow! 2560 1707 Ken Story

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Playtime is one of the most important ways to promote healthy child development. Children learn, flex their creative ability and curiosity, interact with others, grow, and most of all have fun! Both children and adults benefit from playtime, especially in an open and shared environment that allows each individual to hone in on and improve their social, behavioral, and emotional skills.

Way to Grow is proud to offer such an environment to the community through its Play to Grow program.

Offered free of charge, Play to Grow is a weekly early learning class that provides curriculum-based learning opportunities for children under the age of five and their parents. During these sessions, families have access to Family Educators for home visits, health, early education, and to Resource Advocates for connections to services. Play to Grow not only offers great socialization opportunities for children, but is an environment where parents can socialize with one another.

The group is held every Wednesday from 10:00-11:30 AM in the Way to Grow Family Room at Lucy C. Laney at Community School in North Minneapolis and is open to the public. Each Play to Grow session contains five elements:

  • Free play
  • Circle time
  • Snack time
  • Table activities/sensory play
  • Free play (repeated)

While Play to Grow officially starts at 10:00 AM, parents and children may arrive as early as 8:30 AM for extended free play while our Family Educators set up.

Free play is an important part of our program because it encourages children to interact with the environment around them on their own terms. It allows children to use their dexterity, creativity and imagination, and motor skills. Additionally, it helps them build their confidence and teaches them to work in groups, so they learn how to play with others through sharing and the occasional time where a conflict needs to be resolved.

Circle time is a group interactive time where the children and adults come together to focus on one activity, led by a Family Educator. Usually, circle time will consist of an interactive story, singing, or reading. This time is important because it allows the children to bond as a group over a common interest, but in a setting where they are being taught by an educator.

Because childhood is a crucial time for development and growth, Play to Grow provides a snack time with healthy and nutritious foods to supplement the children’s midmorning needs between meals. Plus, who didn’t love snack time as a kid (and even as an adult now)!

The program then leads into table activities and sensory play held in different stations throughout the room. Typically, there is a sensory table, play-doh, and a craft project for the children. Sensory play is valuable because these activities stimulate the children’s senses of touch, smell, taste, movement, balance, sight, and hearing. It leads the child to learn more complex tasks and supports cognitive growth.

As the day circles back into free play and winds down, this time allows the parents more time to interact with one another as well as with Family Educators. While Play to Grow is valuable for children, it is equally as valuable to adults as it allows time for socialization and peer networking. But you don’t have to take our word for it. Here’s what parents are saying about Play to Grow:

To learn more about Play to Grow, contact Ronel Robinson at or at 612-874-4740.

Read more about the development of social skills in young children:

The Value of Social Skills

The Value of Social Skills 2560 1707 Ken Story

Starting early developing social skills in children prepares them for healthier interactions in all aspects of their lives. Having social skills is an integral value in all functioning societies. Communicating properly with others, demonstrating good manners, expressing personal needs, and being considerate of feelings are all important components of solid social skills.

Play to Grow is a free weekly early learning class that provides curriculum-based learning opportunities for parents and children under the age of five. During these sessions, families have access to Family Educators for home visits, health, early education, and to Resource Advocates for connections to services. Play to Grow not only offers great socialization opportunities for the children, but is an environment where parents can socialize with one another and ask our Resource Advocates for advice.

Many children, like some adults, are more naturally inclined to adapt to social situations than others, making them the type of people that others gravitate to and for whom making friends is an easy process. While social skills can be learned, it is important that children are able to form meaningful and genuine bonds with others. These bonds will help them empathize and interact appropriately and allow them to adapt and navigate uncomfortable situations and environments.

One should not assume that children play just to pass the time. Actually, children gain most of their skills through playing. Playtime allows them to express interests, bond with others over shared interests, and explore and shape the world around them, and it gives parents the opportunity to teach their children new skills while playing. During these child-parent playtime moments, it is important for you to reinforce those learned skills by providing positive feedback. This will allow the child to feel more confident and secure in their development.

Feelings are an important aspect of social skills. As children grow older, it is important for parents to discuss feelings with their children. These discussions will allow them to understand and interpret the feelings of others, as well as their own. Feelings are a form of expression, so when  children learn words associated with those feelings, they can later use them to talk about their emotions instead of acting out frustrations.

The following strategies can enhance a child’s social development:

Teach empathy: Provide examples of different scenarios and ask the child how other people might feel when certain things happen, then substitute different situations each time.

Talk about personal space: Explain that personal space is one’s own area around them that makes them feel comfortable. Run through what would be their own personal space, why it is important, and proper ways to interact with others during playtime.

Practice social cues: Teach children the proper way to get someone’s attention, join a group of others who are already playing together, and ways to start conversations with others.  

Teach sharing and taking turns: Sit with your child for at least an hour a day to play with them and explain what it means to wait, take turns, and share.

By practicing social skills, children will have the ability to build gratifying relationships with others and adjust to different environments in society with ease. As children grow older, they interact more with people in situations and environments where direct supervision by parents is not possible. Being able to draw from what they learned from home and educational settings about socializing, children make friends within their peer group that will help refine their skills as they grow and mature.

These friendships are important for all children to develop and need to be given the opportunity to at all ages. Friends serve central and vital functions and fulfill children in ways that parents cannot, and they play a crucial role in helping define themselves and develop their sense of identity.

As mentioned earlier, while social skills can be learned, teaching them can be learned as well. If you or you know of a parent that would like assistance in all aspects of social skills development, please refer them to Way to Grow and Play to Grow, as we cover all skills mentioned in this blog.

Play to Grow is held every Wednesday from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM at Lucy Laney at Cleveland Park Community School (3333 Penn Ave N, Minneapolis, MN 55412).

2019 Legislative Session: Minnesota Should Double Down on Early Education Now

2019 Legislative Session: Minnesota Should Double Down on Early Education Now 1250 625 Ken Story

By Art Rolnick, Ph.D., in partnership with Way to Grow.

{Directed at low-income kids, at as early an age as possible, this could help close achievement gaps and give a huge return on investment.}

When it comes to education and economic development, what policy is best for Minnesota’s future?

If we focus on that question, it’s clear what we must do. Both economic and neuroscience research show that there may be no better return-on-investment for taxpayers than quality early education programs. In 2003, Rob Grunewald and I at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis came to this conclusion, as has James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at the University of Chicago.

Our research found up to a $16 return for every $1 invested to help low-income children access high-quality early learning programs. That’s because low-income children who are prepared for kindergarten are less likely to generate lifelong taxpayer bills related to things like special education, social services, health care, unemployment, law enforcement and prisons. The economic research is clear — investing a little now saves taxpayers a lot later.

And neuroscience research shows that the highest return-on-investment (ROI) is when early education begins at the beginning. Achievement gaps open as early age 1; they do not wait until age 4. Indeed, we now know that much critical brain development happens by age 3. Conclusion: We must invest early in life.

How is Minnesota doing? Minnesota currently has some of the worst achievement gaps in the nation. In the 16 years since our research was published in 2003, about 302,000 Minnesota children were born into families with incomes low enough to be eligible for Early Learning Scholarships. We didn’t invest in scholarships for the overwhelming majority of those kids. We didn’t get that ROI. We didn’t prevent and close those achievement gaps early in life.

Now, more than two-thirds of those kids are already past kindergarten, and some are as old as 15. We missed that opportunity. And not only did we fail these kids, we failed our taxpayers, our communities and our economy.

This year, estimates are that another 35,000 low-income Minnesota children under age 5 won’t be able to access high-quality early learning programs without help. Given what we know about how a child’s brain develops during the earliest years, given that we have an effective program that can be readily scaled, how can we not fund more scholarships?

So now — not 16 years from now, not even one year from now — is the time to at least double down on our investment. Our current biennial budget for scholarships is $140 million. With a $1.5 billion state budget surplus, we can readily invest $140 million more. Now is the time to make closing the achievement gaps a Minnesota priority.

With such an investment, we could provide flexible scholarships to change the life trajectories of an additional 7,200 left-behind children each year. While it would only help about one child in need out of every five, it would bring meaningful progress.

If Minnesota continues to turn a blind eye to our opportunity gaps and achievement gaps, our children, communities and economy will suffer, and that ultimately means all Minnesotans will suffer. We desperately need well-educated Minnesotans in order to compete in the global economy and maintain our strong communities. The time to build for that future is now.

This commentary is a revised and updated version of a commentary that appeared in the Star Tribune on April 13, 2018

Art Rolnick is a senior fellow at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs and former director of research at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

Tips on How to Handle Snowstorms and Extreme Cold

Tips on How to Handle Snowstorms and Extreme Cold 960 638 Ken Story

Snowstorms and Extreme Cold

Winter storms and extreme cold can be difficult to prepare for, especially if you and your family have never experienced one. These adverse conditions create increased risks of car accidents, hypothermia, frostbite, and carbon monoxide poisoning in homes and cars.

Winter storms and blizzards bring extreme cold, freezing rain, snow, ice, low visibility, and high winds. These storms and low temperature can last anywhere from a few hours to several days and potentially knock out heat, power, communication services, and cause your vehicle to not start.

Prepare Now

Know our community’s risks for winter storms and cold weather by reading information on our local news outlets channels and websites. By preparing ahead, you ensure that you, your family members, your home, and even your pets are protected from the elements and any potential risks they may bring.

Check out these tips from local and national organizations on how to be prepared during these next couple of days:  

Tips for Extremely Cold Weather

  • Stay inside as much as possible and limit time spent in the cold.
  • Dress in layers and keep clothes and footwear dry.
  • Check on family, friends, and neighbors who are at risk and may need additional assistance.
  • Know the symptoms of cold-related health issues, such as frostbite and hypothermia, and seek medical attention if health conditions are severe.
  • Make sure your vehicle has an emergency kit that includes an ice scraper, a blanket and flashlight, and keep the fuel tank above half full.

Symptoms Of Frostbite And Hypothermia

Frostbite causes loss of feeling and color around the face, fingers, and toes.

  • Signs: Numbness, white or grayish-yellow skin, firm or waxy skin.
  • Actions: Go to a warm room. Soak in warm water. Use body heat to warm. Do not massage or use a heating pad.

Hypothermia is an unusually low body temperature. A temperature below 95 degrees is an emergency.

  • Signs: Shivering, exhaustion, confusion, fumbling hands, memory loss, slurred speech, or drowsiness.
  • Actions: Go to a warm room. Warm the center of the body first—chest, neck, head, and groin. Keep dry and wrapped up in warm blankets, including the head and neck.

Stay Safe While Staying Warm

The Fire Department wants people to stay safe as they stay warm and offer the following tips:

  • Always turn space heaters off when no one is around and before going to sleep.
  • Keep space heaters 3 feet away from anything that can burn.
  • Never use a stove for heating the home.
  • Once a year, furnaces and fireplaces need to be inspected.
  • Everyone should make sure to have working smoke alarms and carbon dioxide detectors on every floor of their home.

Pets Get Cold Too

Minneapolis Animal Care and Control reminds residents that their pets feel the cold, too. Here are some reminders from Animal Control:

  • Keep pets in proper shelter and out of direct exposure to the elements.
  • Never leave pets unattended in a parked car for any period of time.
  • Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia.
  • Leaving pets outside in the cold can result in citations of $500 or more, seizure of the animal, or the death of the animal from the cold.

Anyone who sees an animal outside without shelter or in an unattended car can call Minneapolis Animal Care & Control immediately – in Minneapolis, that’s 311 (612-673-3000). If they believe the situation to be life-threatening and the animal is nonresponsive, they should call 911.

Adopt-A-Family: A Great End to 2018

Adopt-A-Family: A Great End to 2018 2560 1920 Ken Story

Every December, Way to Grow is able to reach even more families and provide basic needs, special treats, and a great start to the new year through our Adopt-A-Family program.

Started through a partnership with Allina Health, Adopt-A-Family allows churches, companies, and individuals to sponsor a Way to Grow family during what many of us celebrate as the holiday season. Families are selected by our Family Educators, and together they compile a wishlist for each family member, as well as the household. From there, our staff works with groups from all over the Twin Cities to purchase, wrap, and deliver the gifts. By the end of December, our office was bursting with deliveries for so many families, all graciously donated by our neighbors.

In the spirit of giving and thanks, we are proud to share with you that at the end of 2018, over 50 families were brought joy and cheer. We could not have done this without the generosity of the hundreds of individuals who simply wanted to bring joy to families during the holiday season. Witnessing this selfless giving was a truly great way to end 2018—we are so inspired by and grateful for this support.

If you want more information or are interested in participating in future Adopt-A-Family campaigns, please contact our Adopt-A-Family Coordinator, Liz Woods, at

Investing Time and Energy

Investing Time and Energy 2560 2154 Ken Story

Barry Lee always thought his calling was to be a teacher, but life has a way of working in surprising ways. It wasn’t until after a successful 40-year career in the private sector that he finally found himself sitting in a tiny chair, surrounded by children in a classroom.

For the past 10 years since retiring, Barry has volunteered in his community in various ways. Dedicated to education, Barry has spent the last three years as a weekly volunteer in our Preschool P.A.L.S. classroom. When asked why he chooses to spend his free time in the busy environment of a classroom, he replies, “When I retired I asked myself, ‘Who am I to think that I can take the rest of my life off?’”

“Mr. Barry” as he is known in the classroom, dove headfirst into his work with the children. Working off verbal cues from the teachers and incorporating learning opportunities into playtime, he really feels like he is making a difference. “I’ve heard people think that volunteering with children at this age is babysitting. That is definitely not the case. It didn’t take me long to discover that they are really bright young individuals,” Barry explains.

His favorite moments at Way to Grow are the ones when the children have a “big-eyed” moment. “They have that epiphany, that moment of discovery and connection of what they learned and that they can actually use it. That feeling leaves me flying high for four to five days,” he notes.

“Muhammad Ali once said, ‘Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth,’” Barry reflects. “These children count on me. If I can fulfill my soul and improve the future of a child at the same time, I know I will have done my part.”

Creating Lasting Bonds

Creating Lasting Bonds 1449 948 Ken Story

On his first day of preschool, Daniel could barely speak a word. A nervous child and unsure of his surroundings, Daniel didn’t play or interact with any of the other children. His only method of communication was guiding his teacher to what he needed, and often he would burst with frustration. “Imagine being in a busy and new environment where you can’t verbally communicate your needs,” says Ashley Saupp, then the Lead Teacher of Way to Grow’s Preschool P.A.L.S. “As an educator, I knew that the best environment and people for him would be those who supported him from where he was at the time, not from where he needed to be.”

“When Daniel first started preschool, he hardly spoke,” explained his mother Berenisce. “I was afraid to send him, thinking that couldn’t tell me what was happening at school, or communicate with his teacher and classmates.” Her oldest son had recently graduated from Preschool P.A.L.S., and even though she was apprehensive, she trusted that Way to Grow would be able to support Daniel and his unique needs.

Surrounded by colorful pictures, toys for interactive play, and stacks of books, Preschool P.A.L.S. is a haven for fun, growth, and social interaction. Yet while the other children happily played and learned together, Daniel struggled to communicate and connect. Determined to help this new preschooler grow to his full potential, Ashley made sure every day was treated as an opportunity for growth. By utilizing a picture communication system combined with speech therapy, over the course of many months, Daniel learned how to communicate and convey his thoughts and needs. “He used to throw his shoes, hide underneath the table, and scream when he was frustrated that he couldn’t get his point across. In time, he relied on me to self-regulate his behavior, and eventually he was able to do it himself,” Ashley explains.

Taking awhile to become interested in interacting with the other children, Daniel leaned on his teacher for support. During playtime, Ashley would have him sit directly next to her, and after awhile they started inviting other kids to play with them. Over time, Ashley was able to slowly move away and allow Daniel space to play with his new friends all on his own. Ashley laughs, “It was almost like I had to wean him off of me!”

If Daniel’s first year at P.A.L.S. was all about change and adapting to new surroundings, his second year was about personal growth. During year two in Ashley’s classroom, Daniel’s spirit and energy came alive as he gained the confidence to participate in class and grew in his language development. He developed friendships and became even more comfortable in the classroom. Having grown so much in his two years of preschool, Daniel’s family placed him in kindergarten the following fall.

However, Daniel and his family quickly learned that elementary school was a very different environment than his former preschool classroom, and the transition proved to be very difficult. “It did not go well,” explains Ashley. “He just was not emotionally and academically ready.” Although not the traditional route, Berenisce knew that Daniel needed a little more time, so he returned to his former classroom for one more year. According to Ashley, “You cannot rush child development. You can guide it, but you cannot rush it.”

Upon returning to Way to Grow’s preschool, Daniel’s third year focused on readiness. By giving him flexibility and more time to learn kindergarten expectations, Daniel adopted a new level of emotional maturity and exhibited a true yearning to learn. As Ashley describes, Daniel had truly transformed: “Our last day together was graduation in front of hundreds of people. What on his first day would have completely scared him, was a huge moment of celebration. He walked across the stage on his own and received his preschool diploma to the cheers of his family and new friends. I was so proud of him.”

Today, Daniel is in 1st grade at Seward Montessori School. He can count to 100, speaks Spanish and English, and is especially interested in reading, writing, and animals. “Daniel is doing so well in his school,” notes his mother enthusiastically. “He likes all of his friends and gets along with everyone!” Given his love of animals, it’s no surprise that Daniel already wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up.As Daniel moved on to kindergarten, Ashley also moved forward. She now leads both our NAEYC-accredited preschools as Way to Grow’s Manager of Education Programming. Looking back at their time together, Ashley is reminded that while children are the focus of any classroom, their teachers learn right alongside them. “Often it’s the case that we think about what our role is and what our impact was on our children, but it shouldn’t always be like that,” Ashley reflects. “Daniel gave me so many experiences and taught me so many lessons that I will use to help other children facing issues like his. We grew together, and that truly speaks to our mission and what we do in the community.”

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