Family Educators

Strengthening Families: Hassan and Asha’s Story

Strengthening Families: Hassan and Asha’s Story 1200 800 Ivy Marsnik

“From the moment we met Shany in 2005, she was very respectful,” Hassan says thinking back to 12 years ago to the day when a neighbor introduced his family to Shany, a Way to Grow Family Educator. “The fact that Shany was a part of our culture and spoke our language made it very comfortable for my wife, Asha, who was often home alone with our children.”

Shany enrolled the family and began working with Hassan and Asha’s oldest son, Hamza, who was four years old at the time. Shany brought learning materials over each week to help Hamza with his reading and writing, and helped Asha find and enroll Hamza in a preschool program.

Hassan spent the next few years studying at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul to become a high school math teacher. Over the course of his studies, he and Asha had three more children. As the children grew, their reading and vocabulary skills improved with Shany’s guidance. Shany always explained how the children were doing, and helped Hassan and Asha understand where each child was developmentally.  Hassan was very pleased to see the improvements. He knew Shany was teaching his children the skills they would need to be successful in the classroom.

Over time, Shany became the family’s friend. “She served as an educator and mentor not only to our children, but to our entire family,” Hassan says. “Shany provided guidance and help to all of us. Whenever she made a home visit, she brought books, school supplies, learning materials and toys, and even bikes for our children. She also provided Asha and me with important community resources such as housing, library, and school choice information. Shany even went as far as to help my wife, whose English language is limited, translate documents, enroll in English Language Learning (ELL) classes, and complete a Child Development Associate (CDA) certificate program.”

“We began telling others in our community about Way to Grow the same way our neighbor had shared the word about the organization with us. It is such a great program, and our community needs it. It is so important especially in the inner city where schools are challenging for English language learners who don’t understand the system, how it works, or that our children need supplemental learning because what they learn in the classroom isn’t enough. Way to Grow helps families and immigrant communities new to the school system and brings them up. Having Shany in our home was a huge plus.”

In January 2017, Hassan and Asha moved from Minneapolis to a home in Bloomington, outside of Way to Grow’s current service area. According to Hassan, the family had two main criteria when finding a new home: having a high quality school district, and the overall safety of the community. Though Hassan and Asha miss the connections they made at Way to Grow, they could not be happier to have a place for their children to call their own.

New Graduate, Restored Hope

New Graduate, Restored Hope 2560 1441 Ivy Marsnik

One year ago, Alicia came to us seeking help for herself and her 7 month old daughter. Struggling with the recent loss of her sister, Alicia had dropped out of school and lacked the confidence she needed to persevere. Knowing that she needed to finish high school, Alicia was as confused by the process as she was terrified of failure.

Alicia enrolled in Way to Grow and began attending our monthly Dream Tracks program. She blossomed. After getting a job at a local grocery store and finding a child care program for her young daughter, Carmen, Alicia’s Way to Grow Family Educator, encouraged Alicia to find out how many credits she needed in order to graduate. “I left that responsibility up to her,” Carmen says. “She was elated when she found out she only needed one or two credits. Once we knew that, we got to work setting up a plan.”

With Carmen’s help, Alicia enrolled in MNIC Unity’s diploma program. A few months later, before her family, friends, and support system, Alicia walked across the stage to accept her high school diploma. Acknowledging the life-changing experience, Alicia explains, “When my sister passed, I didn’t think I could graduate. I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not making it.’ Then, people encouraged me like David [my teacher at MNIC] and my [Way to Grow] advocate.”

Her new diploma carries new hope. Alicia plans to go on to technical college for administrative assistance, continuing to set goals for herself and her family. “It has been a metamorphosis,” Carmen explains. “Over the last year, Alicia has grown more confident, open, motivated, positive, and best of all, happy again. We are both very excited for what’s next.”

Staff Voices: Representing Native American Identity

Staff Voices: Representing Native American Identity 934 618 Ivy Marsnik

At the age of 16, I ran away from the city to move to the White Earth Reservation in northwestern Minnesota. I always loved it up there. As children, we’d go every summer, and just about every weekend in between, to spend our days canoeing, ricing, and berry picking at my grandfather’s. We’d visit with the elders, explore the great outdoors, and care for one another in our community.

Looking back, I suppose it was the simple life that I ran back to.

Even at a young age, I knew working with children was my passion. Not long after my return, I found work in the early childhood education field providing home visits to families on the reservation. The families always viewed me as company, the socialization aspect equally as important for the parents and children that often lived 30 miles from their closest neighbors. It was not uncommon for my visits to run close to two hours long and conclude with talking about family and friends over a warm cup of coffee.

Life in the city is much different. Many native families come to Minneapolis for work and better access to quality education programs and health care centers for their families. But with so many great opportunities, families are constantly rushing and on the run to doctor appointments, parent activities at the school, extra classes and community events, you name it. For some families, finding an hour to set aside for a visit can be a challenge, but they make the time because like all parents, they want what’s best for their kids.

As natives, we also know that we need to do better for our children who are disproportionately unprepared to succeed in school.

  • Among Native American children in the state of Minnesota, only 61.9% were deemed ready for kindergarten last year, which is lower than any other racial or ethnic group.
  • Minnesota ranked 9th out of the 13 states reporting on 4th grade reading proficiency rates among Native American children.
  • Last year, Minnesota had nearly the worst high school graduation rate for Native American students in the nation with only 52% graduating on time.*

These dire statistics are important to highlight because all too often, America’s indigenous people are left out of conversations about closing the “achievement gap.” It is clear we must work to help our children. The first step is to inform parents in our community that these gaps exist and of the importance of starting early to build the foundational skills necessary to overcome them. Following a long history of discrimination, neglect, and abuse, we are recognizing as a community that it is time for us to speak up.


alisonAlison Dakota is a Way to Grow Family Educator. She currently works in Minneapolis providing family support and home visiting services to 30 families, 25 of which identify as Native American.

 


*Research presented in The State of Minnesota Public Education: A MinnCAN Research Snapshot, March 2016

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!

Talking to Your Baby Early and Often

Talking to Your Baby Early and Often 150 150 Way to Grow

A recent Associated Press article highlights the importance of the work that our Family Educators have been doing for years. During home visits, Way to Grow’s Family Educators work to encourage our parents to talk to their children (regardless of their age) throughout the day. This exposure to words and conversations has a tremendous impact on a child’s development.

As writer Lauran Neergaard reports, “New research shows that both how much and how well parents talk with babies and toddlers help to tune the youngsters’ brains in ways that build crucial language and vocabulary skills — a key to fighting the infamous “word gap” that puts poor children at a disadvantage at an even younger age than once thought.”

To read the full article from Friday’s Star Tribune, click here.

Student of the Month!

Student of the Month! 150 150 Way to Grow

We’re excited to share this incredible Way to Grow success story!

This is Family Educator Collette Fredrickson reporting:

“On Monday morning, Osemwivie, kindergarten student and Way to Grow participant, was named Student of the Month at her school! Last August, Osemwivie was unable to read a single word and refused to even try out of fear of failing. She did very well on her IGDI (Individual Growth and Development Indicators) assessments but hadn’t started the formal reading instruction that happens in Kindergarten.

In a matter of weeks, Osemwivie was well on her way to reading A level books. By January, she was reading and comprehending G level books with ease. Her mom has done a fantastic job of integrating reading into everyday activities such as car rides, grocery shopping, waiting at the dentist, and their nightly bedtime routine. Lately, mom is the one who listens to the bedtime stories while Osemwivie reads the book. (Osemwivie even corrects her family educator’s reading ‘slip-ups’.)”

Congrats to Collette, Osemwivie, and her mother for all their hard work!

Farewell, Lily!

Farewell, Lily! 150 150 Way to Grow

Yesterday, we bid farewell to one of our wonderful Family Educators. Lily Romero recently graduated from MCTC with her RN degree and has already accepted a position at the HCMC clinic in Richfield.

Lily, you will be missed. Richfield, you’re in good hands!

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