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Q&A with a Family Educator: Educating Parents about the Measles Outbreak

Q&A with a Family Educator: Educating Parents about the Measles Outbreak 150 150 Lisa Bryant

Recent reports now confirm the measles outbreak in Minnesota has spread to four counties, the most recent is LeSueur County, south of the Twin Cities. The number of confirmed cases has risen to 69 as of May 24. These cases are primarily affecting unvaccinated children ranging in age from 0 to 17 years. Way to Grow’s work in the community includes health and wellness education to help families prepare their children for success. We spoke to our Family Educators to find out how they are educating parents about the measles virus to better prepare them to make decisions regarding the health of their children.

Shamsa Idle, a Family Educator and 19-year employee with Way to Grow, was born and raised in Somalia, where she earned her degree as an RN. She worked with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health (MCA), and with the World Food Programme (WFP) to eliminate malnutrition and provide care to babies suffering from low birth weight.

What information are you and other Family Educators telling families about the measles virus?

During home visits since the outbreak, Family Educators, like myself, have been asking parents if their children’s immunizations are up to date, providing them with information about the symptoms of measles, vaccination and care information, as well as providing them with resources recommended by the Minnesota Department of Health. We are emphasizing to our families how important it is to have their children vaccinated for mumps, measles and rubella (MMR) and to watch for symptoms. If a family’s child has not been vaccinated, we encourage them to call their clinic  and schedule a vaccination immediately. If they have questions, they can always ask me; otherwise, they can call their doctor.

What are some of the questions your families are asking about the virus?

One question parents have been asking is what are the symptoms? I tell them, symptoms include a fever, rash and runny nose, which occur between eight and 12 days after expose to the virus. Another question they’ve asked is if their child contracts the virus, how many days will he/she be out of school? I let them know that their child will have to stay home from school for 21 days, and this is for the safety of their child, as well as all other children. But the key question every Somali parent has been asking is if their child can become autistic as a result getting the measles vaccine. I tell them there is no direct cause-related incidence of a child becoming autistic from the MMR vaccine.

Explain why the rate of unvaccinated children is high within Minnesota’s Somali community?

It has been a long-time issue, even before this recent outbreak. First, I understand it was a myth started by a London-based researcher who wrote a paper reporting cases of autism triggered by the MMR vaccine, and everyone believed it. Second, the Somali people are a people who communicate with one another a great deal. This myth may have been passed on from one person to the next, or one group of people to another in conversation. Third, the media has helped spread the myth within the Somali community.

Has any Way to Grow family’s child contracted the measles virus?

No. I am pleased to say that no WTG children have contracted measles.

As an RN who has worked with children who have suffered from dire health conditions, what advice can you offer WTG families?

My first advice is regarding the measles virus. Please, make certain your child’s immunizations are current. If they are not, get your child vaccinated immediately.

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

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.

Mayor Hodges Visits Way to Grow as City Launches Talking is Teaching Initiative

Mayor Hodges Visits Way to Grow as City Launches Talking is Teaching Initiative 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Last week, Way to Grow teamed up with Mayor Betsy Hodges and TPT to launch and promote the City’s “Talking is Teaching: Talk, Read, Sing” campaign. The Talking is Teaching campaign is the first initiative to come out of the Mayor’s Cradle to K cabinet, formed in 2014.

Carolyn Smallwood, Executive Director of Way to Grow and chair of the Cradle to K cabinet explains, “The Talking is Teaching campaign is one of the cornerstone projects of Cradle to K. This campaign encourages the community to talk, read, and sing to our children with the goal of building up rich vocabularies.”

Nearly 60% of American children enter kindergarten unprepared. This sobering statistic stems from the fact that by 3 years of age, there is a 30 million word gap between children from the wealthiest and poorest families. This means building rich vocabularies is a vital first step in securing the futures of our young children. Cradle to K is reminding parents the importance of their role in closing the word gap by engaging in simple, everyday interactions with their children. Mayor Hodges notes, “Science has told us clearly that this simple step can help prepare our children for brighter futures.”

By reminding parents of the fact that these seemingly mundane activities are fostering learning and healthy brain development, we can narrow the disparities seen in early childhood literacy that often persist into grade school and beyond.

Equity in Education – What Does it Look Like?

Equity in Education – What Does it Look Like? 1707 2560 Ivy Marsnik

Education – Where the Candidates Stand

Education – Where the Candidates Stand 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

With the primary election in full swing, we’ve heard a lot of talk from the candidates on other pressing issues, but what are their views on education? No matter who you support, or which party you belong to, education affects the prosperity of us all as individuals, as communities, and as a nation.

Here’s where the candidates stand (in five bullet points):

Hillary Clinton
• In favor of universal pre-k
• Believes in established right to education from preschool through college
• Supports scholarships for teachers who go to urban schools in effort to get more teachers into hard-to-serve areas
• Opposes Common Core
• View on vouchers: Against

Ted Cruz
• Supports cutting government spending on education/abolishing the U.S. Department of Education
• Believes school choice is “the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Every child deserves a fair chance at a quality education.”
• Advocates the right to education via public, private, charter, or home school
• Opposes Common Core
• View on vouchers: Supports

Martin O’Malley
• In favor of universal pre-k
• Supports focus on the early years and expanding pre-k as well as after-school programs
• Believes under-performing public schools need more resources
• Opposes Common Core
• View on vouchers: Against

Marco Rubio
• Expressed support for early learning programs while arguing they’d be better run by states, but hasn’t yet taken or supported any concrete policy action
• Promote voluntary pre-k scholarships and scholarships to low-income families and students in chronically failing schools
• Supports school choice
• Would like to create a national online learning program
• Opposes Common Core

Bernie Sanders
• Supports quality, affordable education, from child care to higher education
• Advocates for reducing class size to 18 children in grades 1-3
• Proposes $25 billion to renovate and repair elementary schools
• Opposes Common Core
• View on vouchers: Against

Donald Trump
• Supports cutting the Department of Education down in size and spending to localize education, but hasn’t indicated yet in what ways or how much
• Believes school choice will improve public schools
• Would like to “bring on the competition and tear down the union walls”
• Opposes Common Core
• View on vouchers: Supports

ESSA – Three Things to Know

ESSA – Three Things to Know 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Eight years after No Child Left Behind (NCLB) went into effect, congress has passed a revision to the bill to allow states to reclaim control over much of their education policies. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law on December 10, will take full effect at the start of the 2016-2017 school year.

How is it different?

  1. ESSA includes a new $250 million program earmarked for high-quality early childhood education programs as well as avoiding Title I Portability, which according to Martin and Sargrad, would have caused the poorest districts to lose more than $675 million while gaining the richest districts more than $440 million.
  2. States will now look at multiple measures of performance and success beyond test scores and graduation rates and begin to consider altruistic factors like student and teacher engagement, success in advanced coursework, attendance rates, school climate and safety, and social-emotional development of their students. These factors also serve as important indicators of educational equity – encompassing a more holistic approach to evaluating each school’s success.
  3. States are federally required to identify and take action in the bottom 5 percent of schools and schools graduating less than two-thirds of students, but how they do so is now entirely in the hands of the state. States are now not only responsible for setting their own interventions, but also for setting new solutions, overhauling the one-size-fits-all approach of NCLB.

By allowing local legislators and officials more flexibility and say in how the state’s education system will operate, this bill holds great potential to positively impact our earliest learners here in Minnesota. As we go into the new year, and a new legislative session, one thing is for sure; it will be as important as ever for educators and officials to remember the old adage, with great power, comes great responsibility.

Rethinking Pre-K Funding and Quality

Rethinking Pre-K Funding and Quality 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Recently, New America, a non-partisan think tank from Washington, DC hosted a public forum in Minneapolis to discuss the state of our statewide education system. With help from the McKnight Foundation and others, New America conducted a study, outlined in Building Strong Readers in Minnesota report, to find out what supports are needed to foster literacy development in children across Pre-K to 3rd grade. As a Lead Preschool teacher at Way to Grow Preschool P.A.L.S. program, I naturally found myself interested in the recommendations pertaining to the accessibility to preschool and quality early learning programs.

Preschool education is a bit like organized chaos, mainly due to the mixed delivery system of programming in Minnesota – some children attend school-based programming, others receive home-based programming, and some don’t attend any programming. Addressing the significant opportunity gap we all know exists in Minnesota for our youngest children of color living in low-income areas, I’d like to expand on the first of four recommendations made by New America; to “rethink pre-k funding and quality.”

According to New America, only 10% of eligible children are currently served through the scholarship program, making Minnesota one of the worst states in the country for Pre-K access. New America has suggested that we remodel the structure of early learning scholarships to reach more children across the state. Only meeting 10% of the most vulnerable families is not enough. This means that we have families who simply don’t have access to quality preschool because they can’t afford it. How can we address our statewide educational gap if we can’t enroll the kids who need the help most? Furthermore, why does the economic disadvantage of families affect their access to quality programming?

The recommendations set forth by New America with hopes of closing the education gap in Minnesota have taken solutions from theoretical notions to practical ideas. The risks are too high to not push for these recommendations. Something must change.

I know what a child looks like when he or she enters kindergarten ready to be there. Unfortunately, I also know what a child looks like when he or she enters unprepared. Take Saabira for example. Saabira entered preschool in the middle of the school year last year as a very charismatic but behaviorally challenging 5 year old. She arrived with a language barrier and had no preschool experience. She was far behind both academically and socially.

When we met Saabira, we knew it was time to get to work! We used a number of academic intervention strategies through summer school to help her meet kindergarten readiness standards. Her family participated in more than 80% of our parent-child classes and her Family Educator worked tirelessly, visiting the family weekly. Saabira soon began to enjoy learning and practiced her literacy skills while others were playing. She came to love reading, asking to read the story of the week a few extra times. After months of hard work, she not only caught up but also surpassed some of her classmates by graduation.

We need to consider kids like Saabira, whom our system, more often than not, leaves behind. We can start by increasing early learning scholarships, thereby widening access to quality programming to get more kids through the door so learning can take place.

About the Author:

Ashley PreK Teacher PicAshley Saupp is the Lead Teacher at Way to Grow Preschool P.A.L.S. Prior to teaching at Way to Grow, Ashley studied at The State University of New York at Potsdam where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Master of Science degree in Childhood Education. Her previous teaching experience took place in a diverse public elementary school in New York City. While in New York, she had the privilege of completing classroom training with Columbia University’s Reading and Writing Project, a program focused on improving childhood literacy.

What the Education Bill Promises the State’s Earliest Learners

What the Education Bill Promises the State’s Earliest Learners 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

After much debate, Governor Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature have passed the Education Bill with hopes of narrowing Minnesota’s achievement gap and ensuring all children receive the best education possible. The bill includes enacting free all-day Kindergarten, expanding access to early learning opportunities, and increasing funding for K-12 schools.

Though the final bill does not include universal pre-k, Governor Dayton and the Legislature agreed to invest an additional $100 million in early learning initiatives as well as an additional $48 million in early learning scholarships. The total funding for early learning scholarships for the FY 16-17 biennium is $104 million, nearly doubling to allow more children to access high quality early education and care.

The additional funding for early learning scholarships will provide an estimated 20,000 children four-years-old and younger the opportunity to attend high quality early learning programs. Furthermore, the Legislature will continue to invest in the Parent Aware initiative, which will allow the Quality Rating System to continue to add providers.

Art Rolnick, former economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and a current senior fellow at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs, writes, “The current scholarship-based approach targets limited state funding to low-income children, because they are the most likely to start kindergarten behind and fall into the K-12 achievement gap. Research I and others have conducted clearly shows that investing in helping low-income children access high-quality early education delivers by far the highest return-on-investment.”

For more details on the Education Bill, check out the 2015 Budget for a Better Minnesota | A State of Educational Excellence Fact Sheet.

Cradle to K Cabinet Releases Final Plan to Address Early Learning Disparities in Minneapolis

Cradle to K Cabinet Releases Final Plan to Address Early Learning Disparities in Minneapolis 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Mayor Hodges and the Cradle to K Cabinet released the final Cradle to K report outlining policy, legislative and collaborative recommendations for 2015 and beyond.

“As much as possible, these recommendations are based on research and the prevailing best practices in the field and in our community.  We want to focus on what works.”
-Mayor Betsy Hodges

The Cabinet, focused on eliminating disparities for children in the City of Minneapolis from prenatal to age three, released the draft report earlier this year.  “I want to thank the community for the serious and heartfelt response we received to the draft report.  I think you will find we took many comments to heart and incorporated your feedback into the final report,” says Mayor Betsy Hodges, “These recommendations are grounded in our three goals and have been labored on not just by our 28 Cabinet members but also by our subcommittees and additional community members.”

The Cabinet is recommending systems alignment, leveraging existing resources, and increased investments in children in the areas of targeted home visiting, housing for very-low income families, child care assistance and early learning scholarships, and service funding for our most vulnerable children such as homeless children and children with special needs.  “The Cabinet’s work is not done,” states Cabinet Co-Chair, Peggy Flanagan, calling Cradle to K a labor of love. “We are ready to get to work.”

Carolyn Smallwood, Cabinet Co-Chair and Executive Director of Way to Grow, adds that the Cabinet is now putting together its implementation plan.  Carolyn outlined a few of the things the Cabinet will be working on right away:

  • Improving the mental health services for children zero to three
  • Combining efforts with Generation Next and others to continue to increase early childhood screening efforts
  • Working on ways to increase the availability of housing for the most low-income families
  • Looking at ways to increase early learning scholarship opportunities for families in Minneapolis and
  • Trying to connect with family, friend and neighbor care providers who provide the majority of care to very young children.

Of these, Carolyn highlights, “It is critical for family, friend and neighbor care providers to have the correct information on getting kids ready for school.”  The Cabinet’s vision for the future, as told by Mayor Hodges, is for every parent and child to have the same access to resources beginning with prenatal care, continuing to empower parents to create a nurturing environment for their children, having stable housing that can provide a safe place to learn, and not having that access be determined or affected by income or race.

The Mayor has said Cradle to K is one of her main priorities this year.  The full report is available on the Mayor’s website.

Check out Way to Grow’s feature on KARE 11.

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