Family Educator

Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!

Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come! 1200 798 Ivy Marsnik

Last fall, Waabomiimii began attending Way to Grow Preschool P.A.L.S. after her mom met Miriam, one of our Family Educators, at a recruitment event. At four years old, Waabomiimii did not know her ABCs or how to count, but over the last year she has grown tremendously. Making leaps and bounds, Waabomiimii now knows all letter sounds, is counting up to 20, and has passed the nationally recognized IGDI early literacy assessments indicating that she is ready for kindergarten!

Itzel, Waabomiimii’s mom, is very happy with Waabomiimii’s progress and has enjoyed watching her daughter grow. “In just one year,” Itzel tells us, “Waabomiimii has learned the alphabet, how to write numbers, and count. She has learned rhyming words and is now learning how to read!”

Combined with our preschool parent-child classes and home visiting program, Itzel’s engagement has been instrumental in Waabomiimii’s success. “Mom always works very hard between home visits,” Miriam says. “She has done a great job with Waabomiimii over the past year on everything from counting and reading, to following through on rules. When she gets home from work, she now sets aside time each night to practice learning with Waabomiimii.”

During home visits, Miriam continues to work with Waabomiimii and Itzel on reading. “Waabomiimii is working on continuing to build her sight-word recognition – a critical first-step in early literacy,” Miriam says. “When I visit, we do a lot of shared reading, a technique we commonly use in our curriculum.” Shared reading, a strategy where students and adults read aloud together, provides guidance and support to the child as they learn new words. “I usually start by reading a sentence, then engage mom by having her read next. Mom then reads while pausing on the sight-words Waabomiimii knows to allow her to read the sight-words aloud,” Miriam describes. “Now they like it so much that mom is reading with Waabomiimii 10-20 minutes each day! They also visit the library regularly so they can continue to enjoy new books together.”

This month, Waabomiimii walked across the stage at the Way to Grow Early Learner Graduation and in a few short weeks, she will begin her next journey as she starts kindergarten. Thanks to mom’s hard work, and the help of Miriam and the Way to Grow preschool teachers, we are happy to report she is ready to succeed!

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.

Emril’s “E”

Emril’s “E” 150 150 Ivy Marsnik

Emril is a very energetic three-year-old who came to Way to Grow just seven months ago. Marie, Emril’s Way to Grow Family Educator, noticed he was having trouble sitting still and focusing on tasks.  He wasn’t responding to questions and wasn’t sure how to hold a pencil. In an effort to get Emril ready for preschool this fall, Marie got straight to work on teaching Emril to write his name.

In September, Emril began attending Way to Grow Preschool P.A.L.S. The talented teachers there build on the skills Emril learns at home. The preschool experience has been beneficial for Emril’s Mom as well.  While Emril is at school, she attends ESL classes to continue her education in hopes of earning her GED. During the preschool’s parent-child days, Emril’s mom enjoys the opportunity to play and learn with her son. “I am learning so much new stuff [from the home visits and preschool lessons],” Mom says, “Things I never knew before!”

Thanks to parent, classroom and home visiting support, Emril is now able to sit for longer periods of time and concentrate more on his learning. He also comes home cheerfully singing the songs he learns at school and enjoys telling Mom and Marie all about what he did that day. Between home visits, Mom practices writing lessons with Emril. In fact, when Marie returned two weeks later, Emril was eagerly writing the letter E!

“Preschool P.A.L.S. has definitely had a tremendous impact on Emril’s social-emotional skills,” Marie says. “Emril is already more engaged at visits and is responding to questions more readily.  When I would ask who his friends were at school, it was initially very difficult to get a response. Now he’ll happily tell me, ‘Sanja..  Josephina.. Mohammed..’ His progress over such a short amount of time has just been a lot of fun to watch. I am excited to see both Mom and Emril continue to grow.”

Happy Anniversary, Carrie Johnson!

Happy Anniversary, Carrie Johnson! 150 150 Way to Grow

Carrie Zelin Johnson believes strongly in the mission and vision of Way to Grow and for very special reasons. Not only is she a former Family Educator, but she also received direct support as a Way to Grow family earlier in life. In fact, 3 of her children are Way to Grow graduates!

“By the time I was 26 years old I was responsible for 5 children,” said Johnson. “Our blended family presented a significant challenge as we negotiated child rearing beliefs, addressed developmental delays & learning difficulties, and navigated the resources to move out of poverty. We attended events and activities that Way to Grow offered and connected with a Family Educator who knew health and education resources that were just right for our family’s needs.”

Carrie is now the Director of Early Education at Way to Grow, a position she has held since June of last year. In that role, she supports our Family Educators’ home visiting practices and leads Way to Grow’s preschool programs.

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