Success Stories

 Profile Way to Grow families/children and their accomplishments

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!


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.

Meet the Scholar Wicahpi

Meet our Scholar: Wicahpi

Meet our Scholar: Wicahpi 618 368 Ken Story

Age: 7
Grade: 1st
Favorite Book: Uncover A Shark

While culture resides in the souls and hearts of its people, when it is infused into one’s education it can create beautiful experiences and brighter futures. Wicahpi (Woe – Chah – Pi), otherwise known as Choppy, is a great example that at a young age one can demonstrate an excellent balance of understanding their roots, engaging in education, and creating learning environments of inclusion.

Continually performing at or above grade level in all of his subjects, learning was never an issue for Wicahpi.  Rather, his issues revolved around his self-confidence. “Having the social skills and and the ability to express himself were his struggles,” says his great aunt and caregiver Binesikwe. “Choppy had all the tools and resources he needed within him to succeed in school.  He just needed a push in confidence and positive affirmations to empower his spirit into the student he is today, and Way to Grow was a big part of that.”

Binesikwe credits Way to Grow, and specifically their Family Educator Alison, on making Native American culture an important part of his educational experience. “It makes it more personal and special that Choppy is learning through an Indigenous lens,” she says.  “At seven, he has not only recognized how important his culture is, but he has taken a proactive interest in participating and helping others learn as well.  Way to Grow has helped bolster the cultural values within his learning by having a Native American Family Educator like Alison who knows firsthand how important it is.”

Described as intelligent, social, and witty, Wicahpi has no problem sharing what he has learned through a fun-spirited approach, but he also shares the stage with his classmates because he is very interested in learning from them as well. “He looks for opportunities to absorb information. It doesn’t matter if you are an adult or another child. If he’s got something he can show you and you’ve got something you can show him, he is present and engaged,” says his Way to Grow Family Educator Alison.

We know that Wicahpi will be one to watch in the future, because it is ingrained in his spirit and genes.  He was named after his great uncle Wichahpi Ohitika which means “Brave Star” in Lakota.  So with an open-mind, new-found confidence, and a willing curiosity to understand the communities and world around him – we cannot wait to see how brightly this star will shine!

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.”

Inspiring Opportunity and Building Legacy

Inspiring Opportunity and Building Legacy 2560 1700 Ken Story

Always driven and confident in her abilities, Mina graduated high school in 2010, ready to continue her schooling. However, a year later she found it difficult to balance her new motherhood with her education, so she put school on hold to raise her young son, Itachi.

Early on, Mina discovered that Itachi was struggling with education fundamentals and lacked social skills. In 2013, her sister first mentioned Way to Grow, but Mina was skeptical. “I thought I didn’t need help and that this meant I was doing something wrong as a mother,” she explains.

After suffering the tragic loss of her second child shortly after birth, Mina enrolled in Way to Grow and gained the support of a Family Educator. “I learned that sometimes as a parent you don’t know it all, and Way to Grow is there to help further your skills to improve your child’s life,” she recalls. Itachi entered Way to Grow’s Preschool P.A.L.S. the following year and flourished in his new learning environment, surpassing Mina’s expectations.

Way to Grow was an asset to Mina and her family, but it also taught her that as a parent she had to advocate for her child and be active in their education. For example, she saw a change in her interactions during parent-teacher conferences. “At first I was uncomfortable. It’s easy to just show up, get the report, and leave,” Mina explains. “I learned how ‘what to ask’ translates into ‘what more I can do for my child.’ It really put emphasis on the value of being proactive in my child’s education.”

Continuing that proactive momentum, Mina decided to become one of Way to Grow’s strongest parent champions by attending multiple events and hearings at the State Capitol, as well as speaking on behalf of Way to Grow’s families at the annual Children’s Day at the Capitol. “It is always about coming from a place of ‘yes’ when it comes to being proactive in early education. There is always something to do,” Mina shares.

Inspired by the growth and development of her son, Mina decided to return to school, and in 2017 she completed the community health worker program at Summit OIC and became a certified nursing assistant. Mina has since joined Way to Grow’s staff as a new Family Educator. Congratulations, Mina!

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