Happy Valentine’s Day!

Happy Valentine’s Day! 800 800 Maren Nelson

We think the world could use a little more love. This year, Way to Grow has a Valentine Wish—to spread joy and love to our community! We enlisted the help of our preschoolers to share their thoughts on love. Our hope is that they remind you love is about the little things we do for each other.

Feeling inspired? Join us in our campaign of good vibes by sharing your Valentine Wish on social media! Use #OurValentineWish and help spread the love! Please consider a gift in honor of your Valentine and spread the love to your community.

Creating a Virtual Classroom

Creating a Virtual Classroom 1200 600 Way to Grow

By Deedee Stevens-Neal, Director of Education

Spring is definitely here and Way to Grow is keeping busy! Read on for an invitation to join our virtual Education is Power event, see children learning and working hard in our new virtual world, learn how we created a virtual classroom, and to get important updates on 2020 giving.

The teachers at our Way to Grow Preschool Pals are using creative ways to help keep both teachers and students connected during this peacetime emergency. Shortly after the stay-at-home order was placed, the team created a private Facebook group for the parents and children of the preschool. The teachers began creating videos from their homes that continued some of the children’s daily routines (such as discussing the calendar and letter of the week) and downloading them onto the private Facebook page. The families could respond via comments or send videos back. The teachers then incorporated these responses in their next video. The teachers also created videos of themselves reading books and giving ideas for easy activities that the families could do together. The books being featured are both in English and Spanish.

The preschool teachers then began scheduling virtual home visits to allow each child an opportunity to actually interact with the staff members. The teachers create a lesson plan that focuses on basic literacy skills and offers both quiet, sedentary activities and more active movement. Families sign up for visits at times that are convenient for them. Each child can have one visit per week so that they can continue their relationship with the teachers and continue to progress with their learning. These visits are in addition to virtual visits with their Family Educator.

The preschool virtual home visits have been a success! The teachers have had opportunities not only to connect with the children enrolled in the preschool, but also re-connect with older siblings that have attended in the past and younger siblings that may enroll in the future. Several children are using their families as part of the lesson. For example, one child was asked to name something that starts with a “W” and they ran out of the room to get their sister who was wearing a watch. Others have used their baby as an example of something loud and their moms as something that is beautiful.

It is important in this trying time to keep some stability and normalcy in the lives of these young learners. By giving the children these opportunities to remember their routines and practice their skills, we hope to come out of this time with children that are mentally healthy and developmentally prepared for kindergarten.

Learning at Home: Alphabet Wall Game

Learning at Home: Alphabet Wall Game 150 150 Maren Nelson

This activity comes from one of our Preschool Pals teachers and is a great game for you and your preschooler to play at home together.

What You Need:

  • Cards with all the letters of the alphabet (uppercase AND lowercase)
  • A wall you can put tape on in a room with lots of space to run
  • A helper! (that’s you, caregiver, family member, or friend!)

Game Set-up:

If you do not have letter cards, here’s how you can make your own:

Cut paper into small squares. On each square, write the upper- and lowercase letters of the alphabet. Then tape these squares on the wall in a random order. (Make sure you tape them at a height your child can reach.)

How to Play:

Level 1: Letter Names

The helper calls out a letter from the wall. The child then runs to the wall, finds the letter, and tags it with their hand.

Level 2: Letter Sounds

The helper calls out a letter sound. The child then runs to tag the correct letter.

Level 3: Word Sounds

Option 1: The helper puts an object in front of them and the child must run and tag the first letter in the name of the object. (Example: the helper sets a cup in front of them, so the child should tag the letter “C.”)

Option 2: The helper calls out a word and the child runs to tag the first letter of that word.

New Underwater Friends

New Underwater Friends 756 506 Maren Nelson

Our Preschool Pals teacher, Mr. Eka, is always looking for ways to engage his students in new ways. Sometimes that involves painting with interesting materials and other times it means sharing opportunities that the kids otherwise may not be able to experience.

Last week, our preschoolers took a field trip to SeaQuest in Roseville for their first field trip of 2020! The kids were instructed on how to safely engage with the animals, taught about the different species, and had a ton of fun along the way. “The place really let the children touch, feed, and play with the animals. I think both children and parents had a really fun time and some had already planned for return visits,” said Mr. Eka.

Check out the photos below!

Cookie Hunt!

Cookie Hunt! 1152 864 Angelique McDonald

Our preschool is on winter break, but last week they celebrated the end of 2019 with a cookie hunt!

From Mr. Eka: “We’ve been reading The Gingerbread Cowboy by Janet Squires so we decided to make a gingerbread cowboy of our own. The children had lots of fun watching Ms. Alanna carve the dough into a cowboy. Then they used the rest of the dough to cut shapes using their favorite cookie cutters.

“But just like in the story, after we baked the gingerbread cowboy, it ran away! So we had to look everywhere in the building and catch it so we could eat it! Fortunately, we caught the gingerbread cowboy at the front desk. We ate it and it was delicious!”


Book-O-Ween 1008 756 Angelique McDonald

This October, our Preschool Pals celebrated Book-O-Ween! This special holiday is when our very special friends get to dress up as one of their favorite book characters and have a party in the classroom. This year, they feasted upon spooky snacks like ghost & bat chips, monster strawberries and bananas, and washed it all down with spider milk.

Naturally, no event could ever be complete without a dance party! Our friends got to enjoy music followed by some spectacular spider art, and they wrapped the day up with a monster movie. It was a mighty adventure!

Preschool Pals Has Begun!

Preschool Pals Has Begun! 756 549 Angelique McDonald

This September, our preschool in North Minneapolis, Preschool Pals, held their first Parent-Child class for the school year. Preschool Pals hosts Parent-Child classes throughout the year, with near-perfect attendance by families. Each class centers around a theme that impacts families every day. This class focused on nutrition.

Lead by our preschool staff, the class was facilitated with the help of University of Minnesota Health & Nutrition Program Educator, Ms. Selah Michele. She spoke to parents about helping children try new foods and keeping them engaged with their food choices by including them in snack prep. She also gave parents tips for providing healthy snack options and answered personal questions from the families. 

The class concluded the session by making their own snack: fruit salsa with cinnamon chips. Parents then went home with a few recipes that they could try with their children. Yum! 

2019 Graduations!

2019 Graduations! 1250 834 Angelique McDonald

Summer at Way to Grow is always an exciting time. Read on to hear about our recent 3rd Grade and Early Learner Graduations, and don’t forget to check out all those great smiling faces below!

3rd Grade Graduation

In June, we honored over 60 third graders and their families as we celebrated their graduation from our Great By Eight program. For some, it was bittersweet as they said goodbye to Family Educators that had worked with them since infancy. Yet for many others it was a time to say “see you soon,” knowing their younger siblings would keep their Family Educators busy for years to come.

Families were invited to a fun night of games, crafts, food, and celebration. Each child was presented with a certificate, goodie bag, and a book, and parents and caregivers were recognized for all the work the entire family put in to getting their kids set up for success. It truly takes a village.

Congratulations, 3rd graders! We have loved having you in our program and know you will go on to do amazing things in this world!

Early Leader Graduation

One month later on July 28, over 100 preschoolers graduated from our early learner program. With over 500 people in attendance, we had a blast as our preschoolers walked across the stage, families ate a meal together, and everyone played games, made crafts, and put temporary tattoos everywhere!

This event is always a highlight of the year because it truly reminds us of the importance of the work that Way to Grow does every day. For these children, this is the first of many graduations and it inspires families to keep working towards a brighter future. We are so incredibly proud of the work these families have done so far and cannot wait to see how they continue to grow in the years to come!

We want to extend heartfelt thanks to all who made these wonderful celebrations possible:

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. None of this could happen without you. Finally, thank you to our volunteers, the Way to Grow Board of Directors, and our funders for your continued support.

A special thank you to Books to Grow and Minneapolis City of Lakes Rotary Club for providing books for our graduates and families!

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.”

People to Look Up To

People to Look Up To 2560 1708 Ken Story

Many a day for the past nine years, a little white bus has rumbled through the streets of Minneapolis carrying precious cargo to and from preschool. Billowing with energy and enthusiasm, the man behind the wheel is more than a bus driver—he is a caretaker, a friend, and a role model to each and every child that boards his bus.

Described as “humble” by his colleagues and “fun and interesting” by the children, Mr. Willie’s unique and special flare makes him a very special and incredibly important part of the Way to Grow team. Transportation is a hardship for many of our families, and Mr. Willie works four days a week to help eliminate that barrier, always with a smile and wave, a story, and laughter.

Often the first and last Way to Grow employee our preschool students see, Mr. Willie makes it a point to be not just a driver, but an integral part of their lives every day. “My first priorities are the safety of the kids and making sure they get to school on time, but in that hour that I have those kids, I take advantage of any opportunity to engage with them. Engagement is education in and of itself, and that is important,” Mr. Willie shares. “We bond because I listen to them. Sometimes they have problems, sometimes they have concerns, and sometimes they just want someone to talk to.”

When asked about his favorite part of the job, Mr. Willie easily replies that it is the children who fill those seats. “Each child is different, and they are so intelligent and energetic. When I look at our bus, I see that we have the makings of future lawyers, doctors, politicians—almost every type of position that will contribute to our community in the future,” he expresses.

While most people dread the beginning of the work week, Mr. Willie is the exact opposite. “I can’t wait until Monday. I love my job.”

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