Teaching children the Way to Grow in Minneapolis


“They help me a lot; they help me teach my kids” said Fartune Abdi about Way to Grow, a North Minneapolis nonprofit organization with a vision to prepare preschool children to succeed in kindergarten through third grade and beyond.

“We want to have the children we serve great by eight years old,” said the Way to Grow Executive Director Carolyn Smallwood. She explained:

 “Education is the key, and we believe parents are the primary educators. Part of the challenge we face is that education does start at home and helping parents realize they have the keys to educate their children. Everything parents do with their children matters and can provide opportunities for them to teach with increased confidence.”

Under Smallwood’s direction, Way to Grow is partnered with 50+ other community organizations and staff leaders include family educators, resource advocates, preschool teachers, and a bus driver.

Way to Grow specializes in connecting isolated families to community services and support. The families have preschool age children and barriers to community involvement such as language, limited income, lack of early childhood education and medical care.

Often referrals are made by physicians and other medical staff who identify a low-income, isolated family. Once a family is identified, with the parents’ consent, their name, phone number and address are given to a Way to Grow advocate who connects the family with institutions that provide the needed services and support.

Shamsa Idle is one of several family educators at Way to Grow who help educate preschoolers by visiting families. Building trusting relationships with families is how Way to Grow assists parents in helping their children succeed in early education.

Idle said she does this by talking to parents about what they want for their children and themselves. She helps parents to overcome barriers such as language barriers. If parents do not have a high school education, Idle said she assists them to enroll in General Education programs (GED). She said she is alert to other family needs and gets families involved in services such as prenatal care in conjunction with getting children the preschool education access they need to help prepare for kindergarten.

Idle said she visits four to five families a day with a total of about 20 visits a week, Monday through Friday, in which she helps families read to their children, teaches mathematics and social skills, and builds vocabulary skills.

Way to Grow Program Director Ronel Robinson said, “Shamsa is passionate, dedicated, and likes to see families succeed. It’s just in her personality.”

In 2010, Way to Grow reported the following:

Family Support

  • We served 2,303 unduplicated parents and children with high quality home visits focusing on early education
  • We completed 8,759 home visits
  • We made 2,310 referrals to agencies to access food, clothing, affordable housing and other support services

Health and Wellness Education

  • 278 pregnant mothers received individualized prenatal home visits
  • 99% of pregnant mothers served had a healthy birth outcome versus 92% born at normal birth weight in Minneapolis

Early Learning (Great by Eight)

  • 177 children graduated Way to Grow and started kindergarten more prepared to learn
  • 80% of Way to Grow children were prepared for kindergarten versus 71% of children kindergarten ready in Minneapolis in 2010
  • 85% of Way to Grow parents without a high school diploma read to their children

Teen Parenting

  • 86% of Way to Grow teen parents graduated versus 64% of teen mothers nationwide
  • 95% of Way to Grow teen moms did not have a repeat pregnancy