Home Language Proficiency as a Resource

Home Language Proficiency as a Resource 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

IMG_4657Sixty-nine percent (69%) of Way to Grow participants speak a primary language other than English in the home. In Minneapolis Public Schools overall, twenty-five percent (25%) of students are English Learners[1]. Native language skills, though often overlooked as an educational resource, are just as important to foster as ever. Growing evidence supports that strong home language literacy skills benefit English Learners’ overall academic success, serving as a prerequisite to success in school and life. Not only does bilingualism aid in the development of cognitive advantages such as problem solving and critical thinking, a positive relationship has also been shown between bilingual proficiency and achievement in math and reading[2].

Research suggests children educated initially in their home language learn a second language more proficiently and achieve more academic success than those who have not had such a solid foundation. Once students have built basic literacy skills in their home language, they will be able to apply those skills to the new language. It is also often times easier for children to reach an understanding of the complex mechanics behind reading and writing when explained in the language they are more comfortable with[3].

Fostering the home language and literacy development is not only greatly beneficial to children and families, but is also an invaluable gain for society as a whole; enhancing community cohesion and building acceptance and understanding of cultural diversity. Through language-to-language programming, Way to Grow fosters preservation of the home language while providing a space for English learning. One obstacle we often see our English Learner families faced with is having access to quality varieties of literature written in their home languages. Each of the families we work with have at least one goal in common: to read with their children each and every day. Lacking these resources, it can be challenging for our parents who are not yet fluent in English to find books they can read together with their children.

We have over 500 parents in need of native language books in Spanish, Hmong, Vietnamese, Somali and Arabic. You can help parents teach their children by purchasing bi-lingual or native language books. Some bi-lingual titles can be found here.


[1] Minnesota Report Card, 2014

[2] The Importance of Literacy in the Home Language:The View From Australia, Susana A. Eisenchlas, Andrea C. Schalley, Diana Guillemin, 2013

[3] Bilingualism in development: Language, literacy, and cognition, Ellen Bialystok, 2001

A Note to My Family Educator

A Note to My Family Educator 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

We received the following note from a recent graduate of our program and we couldn’t help but share!  Without a doubt, we have some of the best staff on the planet out there not only empowering parents and educating children, but truly becoming part of the families they work with.

Today I am going to be graduating from Way to Grow. Thank you for helping me grow smarter. Shamsa had been coming to our house since my oldest brother was 2 and now he is 15 so, Shamsa had been coming for 13 years. I really appreciate you coming Shamsa. Thank you, you’re the best! You have taught me a lot. For example, multiplication, division, addition and subtraction. You also helped get me ready for the MAP and MCA tests. You are very kind and full of great ideas. I really appreciate being in Way to Grow and thanks again for all you did!
Way to Grow 3rd Grader


Screening at Three

Screening at Three 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Way to Grow staff were happy to attend Training of Trainers, a new course developed through a partnership between Generation Next, Minnesota Departments of Education and Health, and several community partners. This training is part of Generation Next’s Kindergarten Readiness Action Plan, which includes an initial strategy of working through community partners in Saint Paul and Minneapolis to ensure every 3 year old completes Early Childhood Screening and gets connected to opportunities to support school readiness.

Early childhood screening is critical to identifying developmental delays, learning disabilities, speech disorders, and many other cognitive and/or physical impairments that may affect a child’s ability to learn.  The earlier we are able to recognize these factors, the earlier we can work with the family in overcoming such hurdles.  We know that families are more likely to get their three year olds screened and follow-through to resources and opportunities if they are supported by the “trusted connectors” in their lives.  This Early Childhood Screening training is designed to give those connectors the information they need to effectively refer families to Early Childhood Screening and support them in follow-through to resources.

We’re pleased to be part of the very first cadre of trainers who will offer the Early Childhood Screening training to all types of connectors!

The Starting Line

The Starting Line 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

“From the moment of conception to the initial, tentative step into a kindergarten classroom, early childhood development takes place at a rate that exceeds any other stage of life” (National Research Council & Institute of Medicine). It’s no secret that women who receive prenatal care in their first trimester of pregnancy (up to 12 weeks) tend to have healthier babies. But with just 78% receiving adequate* care across the state and Hennepin county, that leaves over one in five expectant mothers un- or under-served (Minnesota Department of Health).

So who are the mothers who fall in this category? Statistically, young, low-income mothers within certain racial and ethnic groups and with fewer years of formal education are far less likely to receive prenatal care. Taking one case study for example, in 1988, Minnesota had the fifth worst record for early prenatal care in the country. Delving deeper, researchers found that only 16% of Hmong women sought prenatal care in the first trimester and nearly a third delayed care until the final three months of pregnancy (Minnesota Medicine).

Though today, the rate of Hmong women accessing prenatal care has improved, we continue to see African American, Native American, and Latino populations remain in need of greater prenatal attention. Both Latino and Native American populations in Minnesota, for instance, have a teen birthrate that is more than three times higher than that of white teens.

It is no secret that under-serving these families now lead to even greater disparities down the road. Healthy pregnancies and full-term births are the first step in ensuring infants and toddlers are reaching developmental milestones from the moment they are born. Recognizing that prenatal care is critical to preparing children for a successful future, Way to Grow incorporates prenatal education into our holistic home visiting model. Last year, we served 157 expectant parents in Minneapolis by monitoring and encouraging attending prenatal appointments, providing nutritional education, and offering support groups for both teen and new parents.  Through these methods, we are able to reduce the risk of complications during pregnancy and ensure each infant’s health and development is on track.

Prenatal Education“Way to Grow recognizes that the earlier support is provided to families, the more successful the intervention,” Dr. Ed Ehlinger, Health Commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health says. “Way to Grow was built on proven interventions that have promoted and maintained health, making them a wonderful resource for families and communities in creating opportunities and promoting healthy children in Minneapolis.”


*Defined as receiving nine or more prenatal visits during pregnancy and being seen in the first trimester.

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