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Susan Cossette

Early Childhood Education Prepares the Way for Future Success

Early Childhood Education Prepares the Way for Future Success 2560 2048 Susan Cossette

“Becoming a strong reader begins at birth. The cornerstones of reading success – language, knowledge, and curiosity – should be cultivated from infancy, and in every setting.”

Nonie K. Lesaux, PH.D.,Turing the Page

From the moment a child is born, every day matters to ensure they develop the literacy and learning skills required for success in school and life. Starting at birth, children are learning every waking moment.  In fact, babies and toddlers are either learning or sleeping! And between birth to age 5, a child learns at a speed unmatched the rest of his or her life. It is during these years – when more than 85% of a child’s brain is formed – that crucial brain connections are created. These connections help develop indispensable academic, social, and cognitive skills, which are the basis for learning.

In 2019, the Children’s Reading Foundation released a national school readiness study that establishes children’s kindergarten readiness points predict their academic achievement in fifth grade and beyond. These findings have far-reaching implications as communities work to close the achievement gap to ensure that all students are prepared for success.

The study, Readiness for Entering Kindergarten: The Impact on Future Academic Achievement, was authored by Lynn Fielding, Jay Maidment and Christian Anderson and analyzes longitudinal data for 380,000 U.S. students from first to fifth grade. Key findings are as follows:

  • Children’s language and literacy skills on day one of kindergarten range four to five years. Some have the skills of a typical three year old, while others have skills more typical of 7-8 year olds.
  • Students who start ahead tend to stay ahead. More than three quarters (76%) of the students studied who started in the top 20% are still in the top (or second to the top) 20% when entering fifth grade.
  • Conversely, students who start behind tend to stay behind. The majority (71%) of students who began in the bottom 20% are still in the bottom (or second to the bottom) 20% when entering fifth grade.

The good news is there is something that can be done to address this.  From the time a child is born until age 5, home is the easiest place to position a child’s academic trajectory. Communities, schools, caregivers, and parents all have a role to ensure children are ready for school on day one. And at Way to Grow, our Family Educators support and empower families to be their children’s first and foremost teachers—because children who begin school ready will have a rewarding educational experience.

The full study is available at:

2019 Spring Luncheon a Success!

2019 Spring Luncheon a Success! 2500 1250 Susan Cossette

On Wednesday, May 8, more than 200 people joined us for our Annual Spring Luncheon at the Walker Art Center.  Funds raised at the event support Way to Grow’s Spring mission of ensuring that every child is born healthy, stays healthy, and is prepared to succeed in school and life.

We were honored to welcome Dr. Kathlene Holmes Campbell as this this year’s keynote speaker.  As Dr. Campbell noted during her remarks, it is important for us all to work together to ensure that all children receive a quality education.  We need to allow students’ voices to be heard in the classroom, and for educators to dream big.  Moreover, it is crucial for us to value and promote diversity in order to provide high-quality education that values all individuals and their experiences.

“Collectively, we have the answers,” said Dr. Campbell.  “It just depends on whether we decide to move forward together.”

Way to Grow helps give children a strong start by connecting some of our community’s most isolated families to the resources they need and establish a more secure position at home, in school, and within the community.

Again, we are most grateful for the support of our generous donors:  You are truly helping us move forward together to transform lives!

Thank you to our 2019 Spring Luncheon Sponsors!

Empowering Parent Champions

Empowering Parent Champions 1449 948 Susan Cossette

Our parents want to have their voices heard at the school level and beyond, yet many do not have the resources, support, or confidence to do so. We consistently hear that parents want to know whether their child is enrolled in the best school for them or how to partner with the school to communicate about their child’s education. We also know that there are specific community voices that need to be heard, such as a call for culturally appropriate education for African American, Native American, Hmong, and Somali communities. Yet in order to be empowered to speak up and be heard, our families must first become more educated and engaged in education, policy, and advocacy. Way to Grow is working to do just that.

Launched in August 2017, with funds from MN Comeback, Way to Grow’s My Voice Matters initiative amplifies the voices of some of the most isolated families in Minneapolis and works to address the lack of information available to parents. A parent engagement and advocacy initiative, My Voice Matters involves parents in advocacy and empowers them to make the best choices for their children. Through our Parent Champion Workshop Series, field trips, resources, and additional experiences to familiarize parents with the legislative process and advocacy, My Voice Matters aims to create a lasting impact on the lives of our families and children.

For the past year, Way to Grow has been working with key partners—including the Children’s Defense Fund, Joyce Preschool, MinneMinds, Northside Achievement Zone, Think Small, Greater Twin Cities United Way, and the YWCA—to assist in planning, family recruitment, and workshop facilitation. Together we are making the concerns and questions of our families heard at the school level and all the way to the Capitol.

“I am so impressed with parents showing up at public policy events and using the skills they learned in our trainings,” says Way to Grow Program Director Megan McLaughlin. “It’s so exciting to watch parents who feel they don’t have a voice become champions for not only their children, but for issues that face all young children.”

Lasting Partnerships: NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center

Lasting Partnerships: NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center 150 150 Susan Cossette

Making sure our families are healthy and ready to learn is a team effort. Since 1991, Way to Grow has partnered with NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center in Minneapolis to ensure that every child is physically, socially, emotionally, and cognitively ready to succeed in kindergarten—and beyond.

NorthPoint is a pillar of North Minneapolis and has been serving families in the area since 1967. Located just down the road from Way to Grow, they provide a broad range of medical, behavioral health, dental, and social services to our community. Way to Grow has partnered with NorthPoint for over two decades to support families and children, referring clients, and helping them to access this high-quality care.

As part of this partnership, NorthPoint’s OB/GYN care team of clinical staff and social workers refer their patients to Way to Grow. While NorthPoint provides medical and social work services, Way to Grow works closely with parents on healthy living and early education skills and follows up on the progress of each referral. Together we weave a net of security for Minneapolis families, making sure all of our families’ needs are met.

“It is vital that our parents and children receive wrap-around services, including follow-up,” explains Way to Grow Program Director Ronel Robinson. “No one agency can do it all.”

NorthPoint and Way to Grow also work together on broader community outreach, cross-promoting our programs and services. Each year, Way to Grow participates in several NorthPoint events to reach even more families, including the Outdoor Market and their annual Fit for Fun event. Our staff also attend regular networking events at NorthPoint, resulting in positive, collaborative relationships between our teams.

“NorthPoint’s mission of ‘Partnering to Create a Healthier Community’ is also our strategy for improving health and creating sustainable change in our community,” said NorthPoint CEO Stella Whitney-West. “Our work with Way to Grow families and children in the early years of growth and development is critical to creating a foundation of healthier families living in healthier communities.”  

Way to Grow is proud to partner with NorthPoint as we work together to create a healthier community!

Transforming Lives Together: Our Spring Luncheon

Transforming Lives Together: Our Spring Luncheon 600 315 Susan Cossette

On Wednesday, May 2, Way to Grow welcomed nearly 200 guests to our annual Spring Luncheon at the Walker Art Center.

As our keynote speaker Dr. Anne Gearity noted during her remarks, social support is a key factor for children and parents living with adverse experiences.  By listening and providing guidance and encouragement, we can all play a role in giving them options, helping them see things differently, and ultimately providing them with new chances and hope for a new life.

We are most grateful to our sponsors:  Monica Little and Mark Abeln, US Bank, Dave and Barb Henderson, Janis Clay, and Laurie Eibensteiner.

Thanks also to our table hosts and generous donors . . . Together we are transforming lives!

A Visit from Allina Health’s Nurse Marisol

A Visit from Allina Health’s Nurse Marisol 2200 1650 Susan Cossette

Good morning, everyone!  Are we ready to talk to Ms. Marisol?

Mr. Eka, head teacher at Way to Grow’s Preschool Pals center-based school greets his class and introduces a special visitor to the classroom.  While March is National Nutrition Month, the teachers in our two preschools incorporate nutrition education into the curriculum each and every day.  However, last week, our early learners were fortunate to have a special visit from Ms. Marisol.  Ms. Marisol is a nurse who works with Allina Health—and is also the Mom of our teacher’s aide Daniela!

Prior to her visit, the children compiled some questions for her:

Why do doctors give you a check-up?

Why do doctors and nurses give you shots?

Why do we have to eat vegetables and fruits. . . all the time?

Why do fruits and vegetables make us strong?

Do you do check-ups on animals?

Ms. Marisol was ready to answer them all, and to talk more with them about healthy eating. Our children have been learning about food all year, and today we reviewed the food pyramid and each of its components. Ms. Marisol talked about the importance of a balanced diet, and together we made a fun arts and crafts project with our own balanced diet plates.

The children loved Ms. Marisol, and we hope she will come and visit again in the future.  Thank you for being a part of our classroom’s day!




So, What Exactly is an IGDI?

So, What Exactly is an IGDI? 2560 1707 Susan Cossette

IGDI [ig – dee]


IGDIs, or Individual Growth and Development Indicators, are frequently discussed here at Way to Grow.

“The IGDIs are next week.”

“Don’t eat those snacks in the fridge; they’re for the IGDIs!”

“When do the IGDI results come in?”

More than an third of America’s young children lack the skills crucial to school success.  This means that every year, over a million children enter kindergarten behind on Day 1 in literacy and numeracy development.  Meanwhile, research shows that these early years of education can be directly linked to odds of long-term success.

This is where the IDGIs come in, and why we use them in our work at Way to Grow.

Individual Growth and Development Indicators (IGDIs) are brief, easy-to-use measures of early language, literacy and numeracy designed for use with preschool children (ages three to five). Part of a long line of research at the University of Minnesota (and elsewhere), IGDIs focus on general outcome measures of educational and developmental growth. Teachers, parents, and others can use these measures to monitor children’s progress in important areas, identify children who need additional support or interventions, and track the effects of these interventions over time.

All of the children enrolled in Way to Grow’s programming who will be entering kindergarten next year take the IGDI assessments three times a year:  at the start of the school year, mid-way through, and then right before they begin kindergarten.

“After the IGDIs scores come in, we are able to engage with families individually and share areas where parents can work with their children to ensure they will be fully prepared for kindergarten,” explains Ashley Saupp, Way to Grow’s Education Manager.

This approach pays off:  Last year, 87% of Way to Grow’s children were deemed ready for kindergarten!

Fun and Learning: It’s in the Bag!

Fun and Learning: It’s in the Bag! 2560 1707 Susan Cossette

“Welcome to today’s class!  Is everyone ready to get started?”  Head Teacher Eka Nagoya is ready to start a Parent-Child class at Way to Grow’s Preschool Pals center in North Minneapolis, and his enthusiasm is contagious.

In addition to its home visiting program that served nearly 1,500 children and 761 families last year, Way to Grow has two NAEYC-accredited center-based preschools, where 50 students are enrolled.

“Our parent-child preschool classes are a really unique model,” explained Ashley Saupp, Way to Grow’s Manager of Education. “In addition to attending preschool four days a week, all of the children enrolled in our preschools also receive home visits from our Family Educators.  Once a month, we bring the parents into the classroom to participate in learning activities with their children, alongside our teachers and Family Educators.  This holistic approach helps the parents understand how and what the children are learning in school— and to take that learning back home.”

Today’s class focuses on early literacy skills.

Mr. Eka passes an activity bag to each family.  Parents and children will be playing brief 5-minute games that focus on such skills as letter identification, letter sounds, rhyming, and alliteration.  Each activity bag contains items that could be found in any home—an empty egg carton, a spoon, a stone, or a small toy car, just to name a few.

“Turn the egg carton over and write the first letter of every item in your activity bag on the underside of the egg carton,” Eka explains.  “Have your child pick and item, name it, and identify the letter of the alphabet it begins with.  Now, have your child find the letter on the bottom of the egg carton.  OK, Moms and Dads, I want to see you play!”

The next game focuses on rhyming sounds.

“Find the picture card with the blue border,” says Eka. He points at a picture of the moon on the card.  “Can anyone tell me what in your bag rhymes with this?”

“Spoon!”  A little girl shouts from the back of the room, proudly waving a spoon from her bag in the air.

These are the kinds of games parents can play with their children at home using common household objects—or, when the weather gets warmer, outdoors in the park or playground.  Families who don’t have the financial resources for high-priced educational toys can still create fun games to play with their children that boost their literacy skills.

“The kids really don’t care what they are playing with,” says Ashley. “What really matters is that it’s fun, and engaging, and that their parents are interacting with them.”


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