Posts By :

Ivy Marsnik

Community in the Classroom

Community in the Classroom 2560 1707 Ivy Marsnik

The goal of our programming is simple: to help every child succeed in school and life by providing a high-quality educational experience for the entire family.

At Way to Grow, feeling welcomed and supported doesn’t stop with our family educators who build deep and trusted relationships with families through home visits. We also work to provide space for positive human interactions, forming a community of Way to Grow families.

In addition to our hallmark home visits and fun family events, we also strengthen families through our parent-child classes. In recent years, our successful parent-child classes have invited parents into the classroom to learn alongside their children at our south preschool.

This past September, we were excited to expand these classes to our north side preschool. The activities are a great way to increase parent engagement, bridge the home-to-school connection, and provide parents with activities they can do at home to further support their child’s development. Not only do children do better in school when their parents are more actively involved, but parents develop a deeper understanding of early childhood education and the importance of being a teacher and advocate for their child.

Parent-child classes serve as not only a wonderful learning opportunity for parents and children, but also build a greater sense of community among our families. “A natural support system develops among parents of varying backgrounds throughout the year,” Ashley Saupp, lead teacher at Preschool P.A.L.S. says. “We see them carpooling, giving one another a hand in the classroom, tending to one another’s children, sharing resources, and providing one another with helpful advice.”

Belonging to an inclusive community inspires parents to be more engaged in their child’s education and supports them as they navigate the K-12 school system.

The Gift of Hope

The Gift of Hope 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Staff Voices: Representing Native American Identity

Staff Voices: Representing Native American Identity 934 618 Ivy Marsnik

At the age of 16, I ran away from the city to move to the White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. I always loved it up there. As children, we’d go every summer, and just about every weekend in between, to spend our days canoeing, ricing, and berry picking at my grandfather’s. We’d visit with the elders, explore the great outdoors, and care for one another in our community.

Looking back, I suppose it was the simple life that I ran back to.

Even at a young age, I knew working with children was my passion. Not long after my return, I found work in the early childhood education field providing home visits to families on the reservation. The families always viewed me as company, the socialization aspect equally as important for the parents and children that often lived 30 miles from their closest neighbors. It was not uncommon for my visits to run close to two hours long and conclude with talking about family and friends over a warm cup of coffee.

Life in the city is much different. Many native families come to Minneapolis for work and better access to quality education programs and health care centers for their families. But with so many great opportunities, families are constantly rushing and on the run to doctor appointments, parent activities at the school, extra classes and community events, you name it. For some families, finding an hour to set aside for a visit can be a challenge, but they make the time because like all parents, they want what’s best for their kids.

As natives, we also know that we need to do better for our children who are disproportionately unprepared to succeed in school.

  • Among Native American children in the state of Minnesota, only 61.9% were deemed ready for kindergarten last year, which is lower than any other racial or ethnic group.
  • Minnesota ranked 9th out of the 13 states reporting on 4th grade reading proficiency rates among Native American children.
  • Last year, Minnesota had nearly the worst high school graduation rate for Native American students in the nation with only 52% graduating on time.*

These dire statistics are important to highlight because all too often, America’s indigenous people are left out of conversations about closing the “achievement gap.” It is clear we must work to help our children. The first step is to inform parents in our community that these gaps exist and of the importance of starting early to build the foundational skills necessary to overcome them. Following a long history of discrimination, neglect, and abuse, we are recognizing as a community that it is time for us to speak up.

alisonAlison Dakota is a Way to Grow Family Educator. She currently works in Minneapolis providing family support and home visiting services to 30 families, 25 of which identify as Native American.


*Research presented in The State of Minnesota Public Education: A MinnCAN Research Snapshot, March 2016

For School Success, Start with Breakfast

For School Success, Start with Breakfast 2048 1362 Ivy Marsnik

Parents know that school mornings can be the busiest time of the day. Between getting kids to school on time, signing permission slips, making sure homework is done, and everything else, breakfast can be a last minute thought. However, unless you are certain your child is eating breakfast at school, breakfast at home is vitally important.

For years we’ve been told we need to eat breakfast. It’s undeniably good for you! Every night, most of us fast, or go a period of time without food, for eight to ten hours as we sleep. To break the fast, it is important we eat breakfast and jump start our day. Breakfast provides important energy to the body and the brain which in turn enables all of us, including our children, to feel better, think better, learn better, and perform better.

Here are a few ideas for a healthy, quick, and low-cost breakfast on those busy mornings:

  • Enjoy homemade granola on top of a fruit and yogurt parfait, or as a standalone cereal (great hot or cold)
  • Make oatmeal with fat-free or low-fat milk and add fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruit
  • Try grits with light coconut milk with canned mango or peaches in light syrup or its own juices
  • Make a fruit smoothie with low-fat milk, fruit, and peanut butter
  • For a special treat, enjoy a delicious fruit tart

Eating breakfast is a lifelong habit worth teaching your child. It is important to remember that as the parent, you set the example. Even if you are not usually hungry in the morning, or don’t like typical breakfast foods, try a light yet well-balanced breakfast with at least three food groups. The reality is, almost any dish can be eaten for breakfast. So go ahead and serve those leftovers!

By planning ahead and forming good habits, your family will see that eating breakfast is not only quick and easy, but is also a great way to spend time in the kitchen together and set your day off to a strong start.

The University of Minnesota Extension’s Health and Nutrition, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Education program is excited to partner with Way to Grow and has a shared vision for healthier families. Our education provides Minnesota families with tools and strategies to help counter the effects of food insecurity, poverty and obesity. One of the classes we offer is Cooking Matters® Minnesota. This is a six-week series of cooking-based nutrition education program that empowers people to eat healthier and make better use of their food resources. Program graduates report an increase in confidence to prepare healthy meals and excitement over understanding food labels and ways to stretch food dollars. Parents realize that small changes in how their families eat can make big differences in the end. Most importantly more families find making the healthy choice is now a much easier choice.

For more information on the University of Minnesota Extension’s Health and Nutrition, SNAP-Ed program, contact: Evalyn Cabrey, MS, RD, SNAP-Ed Regional Coordinator (Metro), at or 612-624-9942.

This article was written by Sharmyn Phipps, SNAP-Ed Educator
University of Minnesota Extension, Health and Nutrition Programs, SNAP Education

Way to Grow Alumna Receives Full Ride Scholarship

Way to Grow Alumna Receives Full Ride Scholarship 2560 2048 Ivy Marsnik

Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!

Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come! 1200 798 Ivy Marsnik

Last fall, Waabomiimii began attending Way to Grow Preschool P.A.L.S. after her mom met Miriam, one of our Family Educators, at a recruitment event. At four years old, Waabomiimii did not know her ABCs or how to count, but over the last year she has grown tremendously. Making leaps and bounds, Waabomiimii now knows all letter sounds, is counting up to 20, and has passed the nationally recognized IGDI early literacy assessments indicating that she is ready for kindergarten!

Itzel, Waabomiimii’s mom, is very happy with Waabomiimii’s progress and has enjoyed watching her daughter grow. “In just one year,” Itzel tells us, “Waabomiimii has learned the alphabet, how to write numbers, and count. She has learned rhyming words and is now learning how to read!”

Combined with our preschool parent-child classes and home visiting program, Itzel’s engagement has been instrumental in Waabomiimii’s success. “Mom always works very hard between home visits,” Miriam says. “She has done a great job with Waabomiimii over the past year on everything from counting and reading, to following through on rules. When she gets home from work, she now sets aside time each night to practice learning with Waabomiimii.”

During home visits, Miriam continues to work with Waabomiimii and Itzel on reading. “Waabomiimii is working on continuing to build her sight-word recognition – a critical first-step in early literacy,” Miriam says. “When I visit, we do a lot of shared reading, a technique we commonly use in our curriculum.” Shared reading, a strategy where students and adults read aloud together, provides guidance and support to the child as they learn new words. “I usually start by reading a sentence, then engage mom by having her read next. Mom then reads while pausing on the sight-words Waabomiimii knows to allow her to read the sight-words aloud,” Miriam describes. “Now they like it so much that mom is reading with Waabomiimii 10-20 minutes each day! They also visit the library regularly so they can continue to enjoy new books together.”

This month, Waabomiimii walked across the stage at the Way to Grow Early Learner Graduation and in a few short weeks, she will begin her next journey as she starts kindergarten. Thanks to mom’s hard work, and the help of Miriam and the Way to Grow preschool teachers, we are happy to report she is ready to succeed!

Healthy Bodies, Healthy Lives

Healthy Bodies, Healthy Lives 2560 1707 Ivy Marsnik

Nutrition and education are interconnected and deeply affect the lives of the families we serve. Studies show that nutritional deficiencies early in life can negatively affect overall health, cognitive development, concentration, academic performance, and have a lasting, detrimental effect on learning and memory.

In response, we expanded the health component of our work to include a new curriculum for home visits, additional healthy cooking and nutrition classes, family nutrition events, and intentional, health-focused instruction for Way to Grow preschoolers. In doing so, we are able to further address the growing health disparities facing Minnesota families such as poor nutrition, obesity, and hunger.

Cooking MattersLast year, our health and nutrition program reached all 739 Way to Grow families. Results from our home visit nutrition education surveys found 97% parents reported increased access to healthy foods and 92% of parents indicated increased nutrition knowledge. In addition, parents say they are making reductions in the amount of sugars and salt in their children’s diets and are increasing the amount of daily walking and movement with their children.

“I recognize that healthy habits are essential and very important to maintaining a healthy body. I learn that to eat each food in the [5] groups is important for good health,” a Way to Grow parent shared.

In partnership with the University of Minnesota Extension Services, Way to Grow also offers Cooking Matters, six-week cooking and nutrition courses for parents and their children. Families learn skills for healthy cooking, eating, and shopping, as well as how to plan healthy meals on a tight budget. During the class, a professional chef demonstrates how to prepare those nutritious meals at home and parents leave with the groceries and knowledge to be able to cook healthy meals for their families.

Parents are a child’s most important teacher in all aspects of life. Our work continues to educate and empower our families to create not only a culture of learning in their home, but also one of health and wellbeing.

Parent Engagement Rates Soar

Parent Engagement Rates Soar 2560 1707 Ivy Marsnik

Over the past several months, Way to Grow has been working to increase parent engagement, and we have seen incredible results! Throughout the summer, hundreds of families have joined in our Cooking Matters health and nutrition classes, attended our Meet the Scholar event, and have celebrated the graduations of our early learners entering kindergarten this fall ready to succeed, and our outgoing third-graders who have graduated from our Great by Eight program. Our Family Game Nights, which focus on building math and literacy skills through fun, have increased in popularity, drawing nearly 50 families each month. We have also seen more of our parents participating in advocacy programs, public forums, and focus groups such as those pertaining to the word-gap, school choice, and inequities in the education system.

Another way Way to Grow fosters parent engagement is through our parent-child classes. With the start of the new school year, our north-site preschool will hold monthly parent-child classes as a new requirement to enrollment. This model has been extremely successful at our south-site preschool since it opened in 2014.

We are looking forward to continued parent engagement in our programs, in our schools, and in our community at large.

Who is Dr. Steve Perry?

Who is Dr. Steve Perry? 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Jessica & La’rissa

Jessica & La’rissa 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

If you are lucky enough to find yourself in a room with Jessica and her 18 month-old daughter, La’rissa, you know what pure pride and joy looks like. But, 21 year-old Jessica wasn’t always so full of life. Jessica enrolled in Way to Grow during one of the most challenging times in her young life; a time when she found herself pregnant, alone, and bouncing around from shelter to shelter without any hope she could provide for herself and her unborn child.

“Within a few months, I had lost my apartment, found out I was pregnant, and lost all my friends. I was very depressed and struggled with suicidal thoughts,” Jessica admits. Angie, Jessica’s first Way to Grow Family Educator, helped her work through her emotional pain and encouraged her to find stability in her once chaotic life. “Angie was there for me at a time I didn’t have anybody else to talk to. She helped me through some tough stuff and to realize I could do this.”

When La’rissa was born, Jessica says, “It was really like something in me switched. I saw how much joy she brought out of me – it was like the world stopped. My problems didn’t matter, because she was right there,” Jessica says. This precious little human was the inspiration Jessica needed.

“I realized I didn’t want to raise my daughter on collecting checks,” Jessica states frankly. “And Ashley [my new Family Educator] has helped me work on my resume, look for jobs, and prepare for interviews during our time at Dream Tracks [Way to Grow’s teen parenting program]. Ashley has also helped me with La’rissa as she has grown. Ashley helps her practice talking more by reading books with her and asking her questions about the book. She found out that La’rissa really likes saying the different colors, playing games, and doing counting activities, so we do a lot of that at home visits. Watching her work with La’rissa helps me know what to do, like to know that building with blocks is good for her development, and she helps me find little books with questions I can ask La’rissa in the back.”

When you are a young parent, life holds a lot of ups and downs. Jessica’s path will not be easy, but with Way to Grow in her corner she looks forward to a brighter future for her and her daughter.

In 2015, we worked with over 2,300 parents and children like Jessica and La’rissa. See what else together, we accomplished in our current annual report.

    Your Name (required)




    Your Email (required)


    Preferred contact method:


    Available days:

    Time of day available:

    Services interested in:
    preschoolspecial projectsteen parentsadministrativeeventsother

    Opportunity interested in:

    Language(s) Spoken besides English:

    Other languages spoken:

    Emergency contact (name, phone, relationship):

    Volunteer agreement (required):

    I understand that during the course of my volunteering at Way to Grow, I may come in contact with information that is deemed confidential. This includes, but is not limited to, personal information about Way to Grow participants. I understand that Way to Grow is required by law to keep this information confidential, and I will treat all information I come across as such unless I am told otherwise.

    I understand and agree that I am volunteering for Way to Grow at my own risk and request. I also give permission for the free use of my name, picture and voice in any broadcast, telecast, print account or any other account in any medium of the event being recorded.

    I Accept

    Additional Message: