My Voice Matters: Voices and Choices for Children

My Voice Matters: Voices and Choices for Children 2560 1707 Ken Story

A cavalcade of parents and children clad in yellow descended on the Minnesota State Capitol last Monday – otherwise known as a Way to Grow contingency!

Way to Grow joined elected officials, Think Small, the Children’s Defense Fund, the Voices and Choices Coalition, and advocates for Minnesota children at the 2nd Annual Voices and Choices for Children Day on the Hill.

The topic of conversation for the speakers and attendees was the Community Solutions Fund for Healthy Child Development that has been introduced to both the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives. The fund aims to shape equitable practices and policies that will support better outcomes for American Indian children and children of color from the prenatal stage to eight years old.

The fund, in the form of grants, will be administered by the Minnesota Department of Health in consultation with members of the Community Solutions Advisory Council, which will consist of early childhood professionals, advocates, and parents of American Indian children and children of color from across the state.

Eligible grantees will be organizations that support healthy child development and organizations that work with communities of color and American Indian communities. Grants will be used to fund community-based solutions for issues that are identified by and for the affected communities they serve.

A resounding message from the elected officials that spoke was, “We work for you, the people. Contact us, let us know what you want and need us to do.”

“We need our parents to be part of the public policy process, especially when bills and laws are being passed that will impact them and their children,” said Megan McLaughlin, Way to Grow Program Director. “Getting parents involved through the “My Voice Matters” initiative increases their self-confidence at all levels of advocacy and motivates them to know how important their voices are in the public policy process.”

Both bills have been referred to each chamber’s respective human services committees. You can track each bill’s status by visiting the following links:

Minnesota House of Representatives

Minnesota Senate

Giving Parents a Voice

Giving Parents a Voice 2560 1707 Lisa Bryant

On September 26, Way to Grow launched the first in a series of parent engagement workshops designed to equip parents with the necessary resources and information to advocate for their children’s education and ultimately impact long-term educational outcomes.  My Voice Matters, an innovative initiative developed in collaboration with several of our community partners, will provide parents from seven Minneapolis neighborhoods with an opportunity to voice their concerns about their children’s education, and provide training sessions to help parents navigate the school system and make the school choice that is best for their children.

During the first workshop, nearly 55 people representing Way to Grow families filled the room to listen and share their common concerns about language and cultural barriers, communicating with teachers, cultural competency, and choosing the appropriate school for their children. Information gathered from the series will be used to develop future training sessions.

“Every parent we’ve talked to is concerned about their children’s educational future and the role schools play in preparing them for success,” says Megan McLaughlin, Way to Grow’s program director. “What we’re doing is taking the initiative to empower parents so they’re more deeply engaged in their children’s education and are better able to advocate as a community leader on their children’s behalf for broader education policy.”

In addition to providing parents and families with resources and trainings, this year-long initiative will ultimately provide them training to advocate for system and policy change at the community level, as well as at the school, city and state level. These advocacy trainings, hosted by our community partners, will teach parents how to mobilize others to be more active at school board meetings, and engage key legislators in conversations about their children’s educational future. Ultimately, they will learn how to testify as a group at the Capitol on Advocacy for Children Day 2018, along with Way to Grow CEO Carolyn Smallwood to help shape future policy.

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.

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.

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.

Way to Grow hosts BrandLab Intern

Way to Grow hosts BrandLab Intern 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Meet Zaq:

Last fall, I had the opportunity to participate in a two week class at my school called The BrandLab. This class was facilitated by an organization that recruits talented young people to be introduced to the world of marketing and advertising. During class, we learned about a program called Helping Us Grow (HUG). HUG helps low income families gain access to diapers, car seats, and other items necessary to raise an infant. We were tasked with putting together a project for them. That project included making posters, filming an advertisement, putting together an event, and a presentation made of posterboard and PowerPoint slides. At the end of it we presented to The actual BrandLab and the program director at HUG. My team did a pretty good job, I think. Everyone in the class did a great job.

At the end of it all we were able to apply for an internship with The BrandLab. I applied with three of my classmates, and then we were interviewed about a week later. I was sick that day, so I was rescheduled for another time. I was really worried that rescheduling would poorly impact my likelihood of being hired. As I waited for their decision, I was sure that I wouldn’t make the cut. But, to my surprise, all four of us were hired on! I was really happy. It was super exciting to have something to do this summer that would positively impact my future. A learning experience like this is something that was granted to only 67 students of 700 who applied, and I am so, so grateful.

During orientation at The BrandLab we had to answer questions about our interests and personalities so that we could be matched with the program or agency that we would do well at. I was assigned to Way to Grow. When I got the email stating where I was assigned I went straight to Way to Grow’s website and read as much as I could to learn about the program. I think what they do, educating young children and their families, preparing kids for school, helping their families live better lives, is wonderful.

I’m really looking forward to interning with Way to Grow this summer. In the two months I’m here, I hope to learn a lot about how nonprofit organizations work, and what it’s like to work in an office environment. During my weekly sessions with The BrandLab, I want to learn more about how to carry myself professionally and how to make a good impression. This summer is all about building a network of people that could help me later in life and experiencing new things. It’s also about learning, which I plan to do a lot of. Education is super important and I want to take every chance I can to learn something new. I think that might be why I was placed here. I really look forward to spending the rest of my summer with Way to Grow.

The BrandLab is on a mission to change the face and voice of the marketing industry by introducing, guiding and preparing students for careers in marketing and advertising. They believe in a future industry that reaches new heights through the creativity of people of any race or socioeconomic background – and so do we. Zaq will be interning with the Way to Grow communications team over the next two months. Please join us in welcoming them to the team!

Way to Grow Welcomes Redleaf Family Foundation Intern

Way to Grow Welcomes Redleaf Family Foundation Intern 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Meet Emily:

The second semester of my junior year abroad in Paris marks the first time I was able to take concrete action towards my future. I started by sending a rather desperate email to my college’s career services office. I explained that I was determined to get an internship this summer, and specified that I would even be willing to move to an entirely new place if it meant finally having the experience of using my time for something meaningful. When the head of career services emailed me back, she told me that if I was looking for something meaningful, I should definitely look into the internships funded by the Redleaf Foundation.

When I read through the list of the funded internships they offered, I was immediately sure that this was what I wanted to do this summer. All of them were outside of New York City (where I normally spend my summers) and in places I had only heard of on TV. Minneapolis stood out to me because it gave me warm memories of watching Beverly Hills, 90210 as I affectionately remembered how the two main characters had moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis. I did a quick Google Image search and saw rich shades green and blue. I spent the summer before this one staying with my grandparents in New York City feeling utterly useless. I knew I couldn’t spend another summer feeling that way and decided that my first internship should be something that contributed to a greater good.

I chose Way to Grow because their cause resonated with me. My mother is a public school teacher, so the importance of education had been ingrained in me since a very young age. I witnessed all the challenges she faced as an educator as well as all the immense rewards of seeing her students’ progress, forming a lifelong bond with a large number of them. Because of her line of work, I was also made aware of how common it is for students of all ages to feel like the school system is leaving them behind and not taking their varied needs or situations into account. The most beautiful aspect of Way to Grow is how it brings the privilege of individualized education to more isolated families, helping a myriad of children to maximize their potential, essentially guaranteeing them a better future by showing them that they do have the ability to accomplish great things.

Despite being here only a short time, I was overwhelmed by the compassion and dedication shared by every member of the Way to Grow family. Their commitment to providing education as well as stability to these families is incredibly touching. In addition to making sure children from low income families are prepared for kindergarten, Way to Grow also makes sure to educate parents as well, dedicating particular attention to cooking and nutrition, acknowledging a direct link between this and the child’s success. I have already learned so much about the work they do for these families and I am so grateful that I have this opportunity to be involved in such an important cause alongside such wonderful people. I’m confident I will continue to learn and will carry this experience with me for the rest of my life no matter which career I choose.

The Paul and Rhoda Redleaf Summer Internship Fund provides financial support for up to 10 undergraduate students who have secured an internship at specific nonprofits. This program inspires college students to explore careers in community organizing and nonprofit programming. Emily will be working with our Program Directors as well as with our Fund Development and Communications team. Please join us in welcoming Emily to Way to Grow!

Why I am a Family Educator

Why I am a Family Educator 2560 1707 Ivy Marsnik

I worked for several years as a Special Education Educator’s Assistant before returning to earn a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Special Education. After one year at a local school, I quickly realized the classroom was not the place for me. I didn’t feel like I could be as effective as I wanted to be without being able to reach families at home.

Today, I bring that perspective with me to the families I serve. I remember what it was like to be a teacher. I also remember the assumptions that came with it. There are many wonderful teachers, but I also think it is human nature for people to assume and to blame rather than to turn that lens on themselves. Teachers are no exception to that and often times, it’s the parents that fall victim to the blame. Meanwhile, parents are also at times relying too heavily on the school.

Way to Grow works to bridge that gap between home and the school. In the home, I start by first and foremost affirming the parent. I do not come in with all the tasks they need to complete and hoops they need to jump through for them to be the type of parent I want them to be. Yes, I set goals for each of my families, but I also encourage them to be open with me about the obstacles they see that could potentially prevent them reaching those goals.

Then we make a plan.

When it comes to getting parents more involved in the school, it helps to remind them that there isn’t a big wall between home and school, and to tell them that teachers actually want you to cross into their classrooms. You’d be surprised how many parents think, “I’m at home. The teacher is at school. I don’t want to interfere with what the teacher does.” A lot of what I do after breaking down that barrier is then encouraging them to be the best advocate for their kids that they can be, even if walking into that classroom means they are reliving the shame of perhaps not graduating high school or revisiting all of their own unmet expectations.

The second part of what Way to Grow does is help the parents realize their own role in supporting their child’s education. Children do not just go to school to learn – they learn from you every day. A large part of what I do is to help open, and sometimes facilitate, communication between the parent and the school. Sometimes parents may not feel open enough to share with the teacher they may be homeless or they may not think the school needs to know their car was broken into. That’s where I am able to pick up the phone or send an email to let the teacher know what is going on. So often, there is so much more than meets the eye. To be in the home and to have this line of communication (through the release of information) is very effective. It’s huge to be the eyes and ears for the teacher where the teacher can’t go. Once communication has been established and teachers see that parents are there for their child, things go much better.

Collette is celebrating her 5th year as a Family Educator with Way to Grow. She is currently serving 30 families that collectively include over 100 parents and children! Through her time and work with us, we know she has touched the lives of many more. Thank you, Collette for all you do to give our kids a brighter future.

10 Tried-and-True Family Game Night Ideas

10 Tried-and-True Family Game Night Ideas 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Throughout the year, Way to Grow hosts Family Game Nights as part of our Great by Eight program. On average, over 30 families attend and each family receives a game to take home. These events have become a favorite for Way to Grow families. We feature a different game each time and wanted to share a few educational games we have found to be kid tested, and educator approved!

  1. Brain Quest 
    Brain Quest is the perfect bring-along game for those trips out of town. Play it in the car, or make a night of it by hosting your own trivia night. Skill areas: Critical thinking, information recall, and listening
  2. Farkle
    Farkle is a fun game of strategy and luck! Take a risk and keep rolling to build your score, or play it safe so you don’t lose your points. Skill areas: Math and critical thinking
  3. Memory
    This classic game is easy to play with children of nearly any age. Print your own like this fun shape version, or create your own using paper and markers. Try using letters of the alphabet, numbers, colors, shapes, or pictures tailored to what your child is learning. Skill areas: Critical thinking, information recall, and topic you choose!
  4. Pictionary
    Pictionary is an easy game to play with no supplies (other than a pen and paper) required! Draw the first thing that comes to mind or create your own word bank for children to draw from. Then, set the clock! Skill areas: Fine motor skills, creative thinking, and vocabulary
  5. Puzzles
    Puzzles have many benefits to early childhood development. They promote not only cognitive skill development, but social-emotional skills such as concentration and patience as well. Skill areas: Fine motor skills, memory, critical thinking and problem-solving
  6. Qwirkle
    Qwirkle was a huge hit at our most recent Family Game Night. Players take turns adding blocks adjacent to at least one previously played block. The blocks must match either the color or shape of the previous block. Skill areas: Color and shape recognition, pattern building
  7. Spot it!
    Spot it! is played with 31 cards that are each decorated with colorful images. The images may vary in size and position, but there is always one, and only one, match between any two cards. The aim of the games is always the same: be the first to spot it. Each game includes variations for all skill levels. Spot it! Jr. is for ages 4-7, though we think this game is just as fun for adults, too! Skill areas: Vocabulary building, cognitive processing speed, visual perception, and motor skills
  8. Story Cubes
    This compact, pocket-sized game packs a lot of fun! Practice your creative storytelling skills together, or alone. Story Cubes come in many themes from prehistorical times to enchanted fairy tales. For older children, practice writing out the stories to increase the target skill areas. Skill areas: Creative thinking and storytelling
  9. Uno
    Uno has been a family favorite for decades and for good reason. Easy for children to pick up and hard to put down, this game is fun for all ages. Skill areas: Strategic thinking, color and number recognition
  10. Zingo
    Another Way to Grow Family Game Night favorite is Zingo. Practice matching images and words to your Zingo card. Fill your card to win! With two levels, this game is perfect for ages 4-8. Skill areas: Vocabulary, matching, and sight word recognition

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