Virtual Visits

Way to Grow in the News

Way to Grow in the News 1080 400 Way to Grow

School enrollment has felt the impact of the current pandemic. Way to Grow was recently in the news as part of a larger discussion on school enrollment and the drastic choices families face. In a Star Tribune article from October 19, our CEO Carolyn Smallwood outlines the challenges families face: “Pandemic pushes down Minnesota kindergarten enrollment.”


“Carolyn Smallwood, CEO of Way to Grow, a Minneapolis-based early learning nonprofit that aims to address achievement gaps and support families in Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center, said some families have struggled to find spots in scaled-down kindergarten programs. Others, especially those with parents juggling multiple jobs to keep the family afloat, realized they couldn’t balance work with supervising their kindergartner’s distance learning and decided to keep them out of school for the year. 

Smallwood said vastly different kindergarten experiences this year are likely to exacerbate the state’s already significant achievement gaps, particularly because the first years of school set the course for future studies. 

‘Now we have a situation where they’re not in kindergarten, not receiving the quality of services that is needed at that particular time, and our kids are probably going to be further behind,’ she said.”

Children are falling behind: Here’s what we can do.

Children are falling behind: Here’s what we can do. 1200 600 Way to Grow

by Deedee Stevens-Neal, Director of Education

The early part of 2020 became a great experiment in virtual learning. Experts predict children could have a four to eight month regression in academic skills, and the American Academy of Pediatrics is worried about the social and emotional effects of distance learning. There is further concern with children not having their basic needs met and some may be more at risk of abuse as families experience high levels of stress. Our families are under immense pressure. Here’s what we can do to help.

Staying true to our mission, Way to Grow goes beyond just basic parenting tips to empower families to create a culture of learning in the home. We learned quickly that in the face of unprecedented challenges, we can adapt our current model to provide a deeper level of service. We can provide virtual home visits to families and supply children with books to maintain current reading levels. With the help of our school bus, we can deliver packages of household supplies, books and games, and additional educational materials. We can and will go above and beyond for our families.

Every week brings new challenges. To bolster our work, we are coordinating with other agencies to help our families through this crisis. With the development of tutoring support services, we are finding new ways to reach children. In addition to education support, our staff is specially trained to recognize partner violence, and has learned ways to assist families in this situation. For every challenge, we are working to be part of the solution—one family at a time.

Creating a Virtual Classroom

Creating a Virtual Classroom 1200 600 Way to Grow

By Deedee Stevens-Neal, Director of Education

Spring is definitely here and Way to Grow is keeping busy! Read on for an invitation to join our virtual Education is Power event, see children learning and working hard in our new virtual world, learn how we created a virtual classroom, and to get important updates on 2020 giving.

The teachers at our Way to Grow Preschool Pals are using creative ways to help keep both teachers and students connected during this peacetime emergency. Shortly after the stay-at-home order was placed, the team created a private Facebook group for the parents and children of the preschool. The teachers began creating videos from their homes that continued some of the children’s daily routines (such as discussing the calendar and letter of the week) and downloading them onto the private Facebook page. The families could respond via comments or send videos back. The teachers then incorporated these responses in their next video. The teachers also created videos of themselves reading books and giving ideas for easy activities that the families could do together. The books being featured are both in English and Spanish.

The preschool teachers then began scheduling virtual home visits to allow each child an opportunity to actually interact with the staff members. The teachers create a lesson plan that focuses on basic literacy skills and offers both quiet, sedentary activities and more active movement. Families sign up for visits at times that are convenient for them. Each child can have one visit per week so that they can continue their relationship with the teachers and continue to progress with their learning. These visits are in addition to virtual visits with their Family Educator.

The preschool virtual home visits have been a success! The teachers have had opportunities not only to connect with the children enrolled in the preschool, but also re-connect with older siblings that have attended in the past and younger siblings that may enroll in the future. Several children are using their families as part of the lesson. For example, one child was asked to name something that starts with a “W” and they ran out of the room to get their sister who was wearing a watch. Others have used their baby as an example of something loud and their moms as something that is beautiful.

It is important in this trying time to keep some stability and normalcy in the lives of these young learners. By giving the children these opportunities to remember their routines and practice their skills, we hope to come out of this time with children that are mentally healthy and developmentally prepared for kindergarten.

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