Success Stories

 Profile Way to Grow families/children and their accomplishments

Meet Maya and Maki!

Meet Maya and Maki! 2560 1707 Chelsea DeLong

Way to Grow’s Family Educators know that every family and child is unique, so they customize literacy lessons and tailor academic curriculum to fit each child’s strengths. 

When Eureka heard about Way to Grow, she thought it would be a great fit for her twins, Maya and Maki. Eureka reached out after her twins completed 2nd grade, but had struggled throughout 2020 with distance learning. Maya was reading at a beginning 1st grade level, and Maki, while reading at grade level, lacked reading comprehension. 

After working intensively with Amanda, their Family Educator, the twins finished 3rd grade at grade level!

Watch Them Grow

Amanda met Maya and Maki and began spending time getting to know their strengths, interests, and subjects they needed to work on to catch up. It was evident that Maya was very creative: she loved to draw, and often created beautiful pictures. When working with Maki, Amanda could see that when he was determined to learn something, he worked very hard to master it.

As twins, it came as no surprise that Maya and Maki were competitive and loved games. Amanda incorporated their individual strengths into literacy games to help improve their skills. Together, they would play “Sight Word Freeze” and “Rhyming Bingo,” and compete to win small, donated prizes as an encouragement for their hard work. 

As their reading improved, Amanda worked on having them take turns reading—Maya and Maki were able to complete their first chapter book in the spring.

Amanda also worked with the twins on activities such as counting money, telling time, and reading maps—all to further develop their skills before graduating from Way to Grow.

While both twins were showing noteable improvement, Amanda and Eureka agreed that Maya could use additional support at school while participating in Way to Grow’s tutoring program. Eureka was able to advocate for those services, and Maya finished 3rd grade at grade level with her twin. 

Maya and Maki’s success story would not have been possible without the support of their Family Educator, the recognition of their unique tutoring needs, their mother’s tireless advocacy, and the twins’ hard work. Maya and Maki are the real heroes of their story. We know their unique strengths and confidence borne of success will guide them through any challenges they face in life!

Meet Aubrey!

Meet Aubrey! 2560 1707 Way to Grow

In a year and half, the confident, go-getter Aubrey went from being a cautious, nervous reader to loving books of every kind. Most importantly, she is now reading at grade level with an infectious smile!

Aubrey’s family educator, Alison, first met Aubrey and her family seven years ago. Through her many accomplishments made alongside Way to Grow, Alison saw Aubrey grow into a bright, happy girl who radiated confidence. But when 2nd grade brought literacy struggles, it was concerning to see how something as simple as a book transformed Aubrey from confident to cautious. 

As Aubrey exits Way to Grow after seven years, her smile—and confidence—is bigger than ever.

Culture to Culture Connections

In addition to the usual tools Alison uses to support literacy, including worksheets, writing, games, and “Reading A to Z,” connecting with Aubrey about their Native American heritage also supported Aubrey’s progress. Megan, Aubrey’s mother, truly appreciated connecting through their heritage, sharing, “Aubrey and I really liked it when Alison would bring books about our culture.” 

Aubrey attends Anishinabe Academy and was thrilled to bring home projects to show Alison what she had created and learned at school. Connecting Aubrey with her culture was important to Alison, and Alison was happy to help her learn.

Aubrey didn’t say “Goodbye” to Alison when she left. Instead, she said, “Gigawabamin,” which translates to “See you later” in Ojibwe. 

As Aubrey finished up 3rd grade, she asked why Alison only visited once a month. The answer was simple: because of the incredible progress she’s made! Monthly visits were enough for Alison to work, connect, and know that Aubrey was ready to move onto the 4th grade, at grade level. These days, Aubrey is working hard on practicing her cursive. 

At Way to Grow, we understand that language and cultural connections play a major role in helping children develop reading skills. Alison knows that Aubrey’s excitement and curiosity about reading, education, and her Native American culture, will take her far. While it’s bittersweet to see Aubrey graduate from our program, we won’t say goodbye. It’s a Gigawabamin to Aubrey and her family!

Meet Brian!

Meet Brian! 7971 6000 Kate Kinkade

On a chilly Saturday morning, Brian arrives at the Way to Grow office with bright red sneakers, a flashing light-up watch, a smile just short of one front tooth, and an important question on his mind: “Did you know that the blue whale has the biggest heart in the world?”    

Brian is a polite and inquisitive 6-year-old with a creative imagination and an impressive knack for organizing his toys. He’s quick to open up, sharing fun facts and stories of his love for reading, coloring, and dinosaurs: “All his toys are just dinosaurs,” says Brian’s dad, with a laugh. “If it’s not a dinosaur, he doesn’t want it.”   

After moving to the United States, Brian’s parents received a referral to Way to Grow and were quickly paired up with their Family Educator, Juliet, who has been working with them ever since.

“We’ve known Juliet for a long time,” Brian’s dad, Bee, explains. “When we first came to the U.S., we didn’t know English—Juliet helped the kids learn. If there’s a word we don’t know, we ask her.”  

Like Brian’s family, Juliet is fluent in Hmong. Through language-to-language support, Juliet has been both a mentor and a friend to Brian’s entire family.  “I’ve been working with Brian since he was a baby,” says Juliet. “Brian is funny, he’s smart, and he’s very creative!”

As for Brian, he’s a bright student with big dreams for the future. “I like to learn about math,” says Brian. Brian’s dad has always been deeply involved in his children’s education, and math is no exception. With Bee’s encouragement, Brian proudly adds: “Yesterday, I counted to seven hundred and twenty!”  

As Brian continues to explore a great big world of adventure, his parents will be by his side every step of the way. “It’s up to the kids,” his dad says. “We just support them. If they want to do something, they can do it.”  

Abubakar: a reading superstar!

Abubakar: a reading superstar! 3986 3000 Payton Gresczyk

Maryan and her four children have been enrolled in Way to Grow programming for over seven years! They have worked closely with their warmhearted and dedicated Family Educator, Shany, since 2014. The youngest of the four children, five year old Abubkar, has been excelling in school and Shany has been very impressed with his desire to learn and engage in educational activities.

Abubakar was set to start kindergarten in the fall of 2021, but his pre-k assessments indicated he had surpassed kindergarten levels and was moved up to first grade! Throughout his visits with Shany, he has soared through his A-Z leveled readers and has is now reading at second grade level. On top of his exceptional reading skills, Abubakar stays very active, playing football and baseball. “He is a very lively little boy, always happy!” says Shany.

Abubakar is supported by his mom and three older sisters, but especially his sister Ameera. She takes time to read with her little brother and play with him. They are best buddies! Ameera is very nurturing and patient with Abubakar, listening to him practice his reading skills and helping him understand the new vocabulary.

We are so proud of Abubakar for his superstar accomplishments! We look forward to watching him continue excelling and succeeding in school and life.

Meeting Challenges this Season: Nimo’s Story

Meeting Challenges this Season: Nimo’s Story 3334 1459 Way to Grow

Nimo and her family have been working with Way to Grow for over 10 years, with the help of their dedicated and enthusiastic Family Educator, Shamsa. Three of Nimo’s six children have been enrolled in Way to Grow, and Nimo can see the difference between their performance in school and the older children, who were not enrolled in Way to Grow. Her youngest child, who is now seven years old and had previously attended the Way to Grow preschool, impressed his teachers right away. “He surprised the school everywhere – the way he behaves, discipline, sharing, how he gives his opinions when they ask questions, everything.”  Her second youngest child, who enrolled with Way to Grow at four years old, also excelled. “I tell the test center to test him, to see if he’s ready for kindergarten. They did every test and he passed everything, and they told me he absolutely does not need second language learning.”

Nimo credits Way to Grow and Shamsa for her children’s progress. This included not only the work that Shamsa does with the children, but also helping Nimo navigate the school system and be a partner in her children’s learning. “I know how to help my children now,” Nina shared, “before I never knew it, how to work with schools.” Nimo is proud that she has been able to gain these skills, and she’s paying it forward within her community. When she sees other parents struggling, she steps in to help. “I know a lot of families that don’t have the experience I have, and I try my best to help them.”

This is especially important within the Somali community in Minneapolis, where some parents face language and cultural barriers that make it difficult to participate in their children’s education. “It’s not all mothers like me and my background [with Way to Grow] – the mothers from Somalia and East Africa, they don’t know how to speak English. They have difficulties when they receive letters from school, that they cannot even read it or fill out the forms.” Having a family educator like Shamsa, who can translate the communications from the school and help the family fill out paperwork, is invaluable for these parents. Now, Nimo is able to extend the same assistance to others.

Nimo and her family’s growth are a testament to what can be accomplished through hard work and community efforts. Thanks to Shamsa’s guidance, Nimo continues to actively participate and encourage her children as they progress through school, and uses her knowledge to help her fellow parents and caregivers. Way to go, Nimo!

Deborah & Patty

Deborah & Patty 600 600 Maren Nelson

Our unique home visit model allows us to work directly with our community’s most isolated children and their families. Over time we see changes not only in children but also in their parents, with greater parent engagement and self-sufficiency. Through education, we tackle the impact of poverty and help families move forward with lasting results.

As families grow, they change the dynamics in our community. One such example is Deborah who joined Way to Grow when her daughter Patty was three years old. We’ve shared before how Deborah saw her life and Patty’s change for the better because of Way to Grow. One of our strongest Parent Champions, Deborah found her voice in the six years she was with us. This past spring, Deborah and Patty graduated our program and they are now determined to give back.

Deborah recently sent a message asking if Way to Grow needed school supplies for families. Shortly after, she stopped by and dropped off a bag full of new and gently used backpacks. Our Family Educators quickly distributed the needed supplies. In the spirit of families learning together, one of those donated backpacks was given to another mom who is headed back to school and who was truly grateful for her “school supply.”

The support kept coming as Deborah again dropped off school supplies—five bags of notebooks, crayons, pencils, and scissors! It turns out, Deborah was doing her own donation drive to give back to Way to Grow for the years she and Patty benefitted from the program. We were blown away by her generous spirit. Deborah now talks about Way to Grow with other families she meets and shares the impact of our early education program on her family. She is a true Parent Champion and valued community leader.

Dear Third Grade Graduate…

Dear Third Grade Graduate… 3334 1459 Way to Grow

Dear Third Grad Graduate,

You did it! You graduated from Way to Grow!

We are so proud of you. You have worked hard in school, even when school closed and class was on the computer. You worked hard to stay healthy, eat good food, and get exercise. You worked really hard to get better at reading so you could learn new things. We want you to continue to work hard and be successful!

Even though you will not have a Family Educator to check in with you, we hope you continue to read for school and for fun. Reading can take you a lot of places that you cannot go in real life. Reading can take you under the oceans, to outer space, or to a different time. Reading can help you feel what it would be like to be a different person or from a different place. Reading can even make you laugh out loud!

Congratulations on your success! We are proud of you and your family!

Sincerely,

Deedee Stevens-Neal
Director of Education, Way to Grow

Meet Our Scholar: Jake

Meet Our Scholar: Jake 2576 1534 Angelique McDonald

Age: 4
Favorite Book: Spiderman

Jake has a contagious smile that charms everyone he meets. He is very active in play and loves to run, jump, and dance around! He has a sense of humor that is razor sharp and a grin that tells you that he knows much more than he lets on. He loves playing soccer, cars, Simon says, and learning through games.

At the most recent home visit, the focus was on learning colors. “Jake loved the games and the educational activities,” Suzie, their Family Educator recalls. Martinah, Jake’s mother, is deeply involved in the process of preparing him for school. She says that they are very hopeful that Jake will one day go to University. 

“His Dad thinks that he will be a doctor,” says Martinah. “He is always playing with a stethoscope.”

Jake’s family is very active in Way to Grow and participates in many of the programs offered. At a weekly Play to Grow group, Jake learns how to share, take turns, and listen in a classroom setting. His family also enjoys Family Engagement Nights, where Jake learns math and reading skills through playing board games. 

Jake’s family immigrated to the United States from Liberia and when they arrived, they knew no one from outside of their community. Now they are more involved in their neighborhood and feel confident that Jake is on a path to do well in preschool and beyond. Jake’s progress has made Martinah and Sien very proud and they are very excited to see what the future holds!

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!

Meet Our Scholar Salma

Meet Our Scholar: Salma

Meet Our Scholar: Salma 618 368 Ken Story

Age: 5
Grade: Kindergarten
Favorite Book: I Want My Hat Back

Though small in stature, Salma brings a huge personality everywhere she goes. “Whenever Salma walked into class, she always exuded the most confidence I had ever seen in a four year old,” says Jack, her former teacher at Way to Grow’s P.A.L.S. preschool. Despite excelling academically, Salma struggled to adjust to the other kids in her preschool class. “She really just wanted to be around other adults,” Jack recalls. It was by participating in classroom tasks and activities that Salma finally found her place among her peers.

Salma’s willingness to help her classmates channeled her commanding personality into a strong, natural classroom leader. 

Shamsa and Ali, Salma’s parents, are very proactive in their children’s education. Having been with Way to Grow for a number of years, Shamsa affirms that educating a family takes a village. “Strong community and learning environments for all help shape our children,” she states. That’s where Way to Grow and P.A.L.S. came in.

“My favorite Way to Grow memory is funny,” Shamsa remembers. “Salma and I had to have a conversation about how much she was talking. We told her that she could come off as too talkative, and that she needed to give others the opportunity to speak. She looked up at us and said, ‘No Mommy, it’s okay. I won best speaker at school, so it is okay if I talk.’”

Curious and adventurous, Salma was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up and she immediately responded, “A photographer!” When asked why, she replied, “Because I really like pictures, and I know I’m going to be good at it!” With that kind of confidence and drive, we know Salma is going to go far, both as a student and a leader.

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