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Meet our newest Board Member, Luis Moreno!

Meet our newest Board Member, Luis Moreno! 3334 1459 Maren Nelson

Tell us about yourself!

I have over 20 years of corporate experience in marketing, strategy and communications at multiple Fortune 500 companies. I have worked in multiple industries, including marine, powersports, outdoor power equipment, hospitality, healthcare, food, foodservice, food ingredients, and banking, among others. I have an MBA in marketing and strategy from the Carlson School, I am a Public Policy Fellow from the Humphrey School and a member of the Young American Leaders Programs (YALP) at Harvard Business School. In the past few years, I have been leveraging my knowledge of and experience in Human Centered Leadership and Emotional Intelligence to collaborate with experts from around the world to train a new generation of leaders to be more human. 

As you look into the future, what do you envision for our community?

I envision a community that is more united, connected and equitable, with good opportunities for all, for high quality education, career, healthcare, wealth, and overall prosperity. I envision a community where we all work together to reduce the achievement gap and the unacceptable racial and socioeconomic disparities. I also envision a community with leaders that are more human to foster workplaces that are healthier and happier.

Why is early education important to you?

Because given the fact that learning starts in very early childhood, I want to make sure that every child is provided with the gift of receiving effective education as soon as they start learning. No time to waste! 

What drew you to Way to Grow?

I have been learning more and more about Early Childhood in the past few years and last year, Vanessa Laird and Carolyn Smallwood told me about the opportunity to join the Way to Grow board. I was impressed with the organization, the work it has been doing, its trajectory, its partners, collaborators and the high caliber board members so I jumped at the opportunity! Thank you, Vanessa and Carolyn!

What do you do in your free time?

I like to spend time with my family, play with our pets, watch movies, series, and documentaries, listen to music, travel nationally and internationally and eat cuisine from all regions of the world!

State of Way to Grow: 2019 Annual Report & 2020 Update

State of Way to Grow: 2019 Annual Report & 2020 Update 800 350 Way to Grow

A letter from our CEO, Carolyn Smallwood

2019 was a big year for Way to Grow. Not only did we celebrate our 30th anniversary, we built a solid foundation for our programming by implementing the Parents as Teachers curriculum, integrating three internal database systems, maintaining our metrics, and expanding the number of schools reached by our services. As part of Way to Grow’s growth strategy, we opened our new office in the Harrison neighborhood and celebrated the three-decade journey that brought us back to where we began.

The strategies we implemented in 2019 paid off when our world shifted as a result of a global pandemic. In response to the needs of our families and the realities of the impact of COVID-19, Way to Grow pivoted to virtual home visiting, conducted groups online, created an online preschool, provided academic support to families learning at home, and made more connections to services than ever before.

None of us could have predicted the events that followed, yet even before the pandemic, Minnesota had one of the largest racial disparities in housing, health, employment, and education in the country. Our work was vital then, and it is even more critical today. The pandemic has exacerbated those inequities, and for months we have been hearing from families about the challenges they face and how Way to Grow is a lifeline for them when the world is so unstable and the future ever uncertain.

I am so grateful to the community partners, foundations, government agencies, corporations, and individuals that have supported Way to Grow during the past two years. Thank you for placing your trust in us and in the work that we do. I also want to thank our amazing Way to Grow staff and our board of directors. We came together to face unprecedented challenges—from expanding our program to supporting a community in a crisis. We’ve shown that we can weather any storm when we do it together.

Today we are at a crossroads. As we wrestle with the hard truths of racial inequality and watch as the disparities throughout our community are magnified, we cannot simply conduct business as usual. These times of great struggle must galvanize us toward action. Now is the time for us to come together as a community to push for equality and social justice for those who have been left behind. The founders of Way to Grow believed in that vision—that all children and their families deserve to live in a just and equal society. Over 30 years ago, we embarked on a mission to do just that.

Let us continue to work together, reaching for the possibilities of the future together.

Sincerely,
Carolyn Smallwood

Your Community Needs You

Your Community Needs You 1000 584 Melissa Meyer

Our Way to Grow program is needed now more than ever. Schools are closed and parents are educating at home. Families are experiencing sudden unemployment and resource shortages. Accessing timely and necessary information in their home language is a challenge. The stress of this pandemic is adding more weight to the shoulders of families already isolated and trying to stay afloat.

We Can Help

Our work hasn’t stopped. Right now, “virtual home visits” are happening all over the Twin Cities. Our staff is:

  • Working with families language to language, culture to culture
  • Equipping parents to be their child’s foremost educator 
  • Helping parents navigate basic needs resources like food, employment, and healthcare  
  • Helping families keep their daily routines through these uncertain times

In the words of Lauren, a Way to Grow parent, “Miss Patricia [Family Educator] is my backup, my resource. I know I can count on her.”

Can we count on you?

Your community and your neighbors need you now. Here’s how you can help:

Financial donations are needed. Please consider a gift today to continue our virtual home visits and support check-ins with some of the most vulnerable families and children in our cities.

We have an immediate need for the following supplies to be sent directly to Way to Grow at 201 Irving Ave. N, Suite 100, Minneapolis, MN 55405:

  • Diapers, baby wipes, and formula
  • Cub gift cards
  • Target gift cards for food and household supplies
  • Books, games, and learning materials 

Thank you for your continued support—what we are doing together now, truly matters for so many.


Don’t forget to wash your hands!

Our Response to COVID-19

Our Response to COVID-19 5000 2500 Melissa Meyer

In the wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, top of mind is the health and safety of our Way to Grow staff, families, community partners, and neighbors. Knowing that our home visiting programming is a critical resource to our community, we have included an outline of our plan for continuing home visits while doing our part to limit the spread of COVID-19.  

To provide necessary parent and education support, we have moved to a “virtual visit” mode for home visits and support check-ins. All group education classes and events have been postponed until a later date based on direction from the Minnesota Department of Health and state public health officials. In addition, the Way to Grow preschool will be closed through the end of March, as we follow the Minneapolis Public Schools’ direction. We will continue to work to strengthen our internal structure to support virtual home visits and remote work options for all staff. 

We are monitoring updates and will follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the Minnesota Department of Health, and state public health officials. These decisions are not made lightly, and we strive to maintain “business as usual” as best we can in a situation that can only be described as extraordinary and uncharted. 

Please remember that what we do together truly matters. Your support will be even more important as we move forward to continue educational home visiting and family support services to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities. Thank you for supporting us, supporting our families, and supporting one another as we all care for our neighbors.

A Look Back at 2019

A Look Back at 2019 851 568 Angelique McDonald

It has been quite a 30th Anniversary Year at Way to Grow!

In 2019, we took a leap and moved into our new home on Irving Avenue North, and we’ve already hosted Cooking Matters courses, Dream Tracks groups, and several staff potlucks. This summer, we even got the help of Little & Company when they chose to design and install a mural in our new playroom!

Our families put a lot of work in this year as well, attending parent groups, Family Engagement Nights, advocacy events, and Parent-Teacher Conferences, all on top of regular home visits. All that work paid off when this fall, 90% of Way to Grow preschoolers were ready for kindergarten and 92% of elementary students showed growth on reading level assessments at the end of last school year. Way to go, families!

We also had another year of successful fundraising with our Spring Luncheon in May and our Annual Shine Celebration just two months ago. Together, those two events raised over $500,000. And we can’t forget Give to the Max Day last month, where we raised over $4,000 for our programming in just 24 hours!

While it has been a year for the record books, we know none of this would have happened without your support. Our children deserve every opportunity to succeed, and thanks to you they are able to do just that! Way to Grow cannot thank all of you enough for your continued generosity and support throughout the past year.

May the next decade be as wonderful as the last three! Happy New Year!

We’re Moving!

We’re Moving! 1200 600 Maren Nelson

We have big news! As of June 13, you can find our office at our new home:

201 Irving Avenue North
Suite 100
Minneapolis, MN 55405

We have loved being a part of the Broadway neighborhood for the past several years and this huge project will mean adjustments and a lot of packing! However, we are incredibly excited to be joining the Harrison neighborhood just West of Downtown Minneapolis and look forward to hosting more events in our space.

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:  https://www.readingfoundation.org/research

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.

Celebrating our Graduates!

Celebrating our Graduates! 960 640 Ken Story

It was a day full of pride and joy on July 15th as Way to Grow held our 2018 Early Learning and Third Grade Graduation at Urban Ventures in South Minneapolis.

30 staff members, 12 community volunteers, and hundreds of family members celebrated our graduates through a late-afternoon program that involved an activity and social hour, the graduation ceremony itself, and refreshments to close out the day. In all, we had 98 Early Learner Graduates and 57 Great by Eight (3rd Grade Graduates).

At Way to Grow, we often hear that “It takes a village,” so we would like to take this opportunity to thank ours. Thank you to all the Way to Grow parents and guardians for your work and commitment to your child’s education.  To our Way to Grow Family Educators and staff, thank you for all your hard work, enthusiasm, and dedication.  Finally, thank you to all our volunteers, the Way to Grow Board of Directors, and our funders for your continued support.  Finally, a special thank you to Books to Grow and Minneapolis City of Lakes Rotary Club for providing books to our graduates.

You can find photos from the graduation event by following the links below:

2018 Graduation

2018 Graduation – Family Photo Booth 

2018 Graduation – Graduate Photo Booth

My Voice Matters: Minneapolis Board of Education

My Voice Matters: Minneapolis Board of Education 2560 1920 Ken Story

Recent research shows that boards of education have a significant impact on student achievement in their districts and that across the nation there is a low percentage of parents – especially  in vulnerable communities – that are not engaged with their local boards of education.

Through Way to Grow’s “My Voice Matters” initiative, this past week our parents learned not only the ins and outs of the Minneapolis Board of Education but also who each director was, the history of education in Minneapolis, and how each of them could be proactive in local education policy-making.

Local boards of education (also known as school boards, school committees, school directors, or trustees) are elected—or occasionally appointed—to be leaders and champions for public education in their communities and states.

The most important responsibility of the board of education is to work with their communities to improve student achievement in their local public schools. Boards of education derive their power and authority from the state. In compliance with state and federal laws, school boards establish policies and regulations by which their local schools are governed.

Last Friday, Way to Grow had 13 parents attend a training that was led by a member of the board, Director Jenny Arneson.  While Director Arneson did encourage involvement, she did explain the lines and differences between the board and the schools. She explained that if a parent actually has a direct issue with their child’s education, they actually should call their child’s school and that the board of education is more of a “bigger picture and governance entity.”

Putting what they learned into action, 12 Way to Grow parents along with 5 staff members attended the Minneapolis Board of Education meeting last night where various issues were discussed and voted on. “It is not only important for us to teach them every aspect when it comes to local education and policy-making, but also be there with them in case they have any questions,” said Way to Grow Program Director Megan McLaughlin. “It is really up to them to take it from there to advocate for their child’s education as a concerned parent/private citizen.”

My Voice Matters is a parent engagement and advocacy initiative with the goal of involving parents in advocacy and empowering them to make the right choices for their children. Programming includes Parent Voices listening sessions, parent trainings, and advocacy events throughout the year.

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