Last Wednesday, a group of children between 4 and 6 years old lined up to enter the South High School’s main auditorium’s stage to receive what probably was the first graduation of their lives. Before the attentive look of parents and brothers, 142 little kids received, dressed in a white gown and hat, a diploma on behalf of the Way to Grow program.
Way to Grow is an independent, nonprofit program that is part of United Way and the City of Minneapolis. It educates parents to prepare their children for their entrance in the educational system.
“We educate parents, so parents can educate their child,” said Carolyn Smallwood, executive director of Way To Grow. “We deal with a lot of families who feel isolated because of their economic environment. They deeply care about their kids. They want their kids to learn. They want their children to be successful and motivated.”
The organization was founded on 1989. “Jim Renier, director of United Way at that time, and former Minneapolis mayor Donald Fraser saw a necessity that was not being covered”, says Dianne Krizan, Way to Grow Director of Development. “They created this program to help children prepare for his first experience in school.”
The program is funded through public funds—coming from the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County—as well as funds from private foundations, corporations and contributors.
Last year, Way to Grow helped 3,513 parents and children, of which 952—27 percent—were Latino. Of the 142 children who graduated this last Wednesday, about 30 were Latino. Leticia, mother of 6-year-old Kevin, was one of the mothers who proudly watched, camera in hand, as his son received his diploma. “This program is a great help for me and my children. I want my children to learn and be successful in the school,” she says.
“Way To Grow has in its hands what is probably the most important generation Minneapolis has ever raised,” said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. “We speak 80 languages. We cross cultural barriers every day. If we can raise them right, they can be the most powerful tool this state has ever had to compete in the global economy.”
According to the Minnesota Department of Education, as much as 50 percent of children of different communities, who speak different languages at home, are not ready to begin kindergarten and have more difficulty adapting to classes in English. Krazin adds that “13 percent, or one of each ten children of Latino origin who speak Spanish in their houses, is not ready to access kindergarten.”
“For Latino children, one of the most important barriers is English,” says professor and Family Resource Advocate Maria Soto. Soto and the other professors working with Way to Grow travel to the homes of families subscribed to the program to teach.
“We help Latino families of all parts of Minneapolis,” says Soto. “We go to their homes and teach children basic things like colors, numbers of the 1 to 20 and words, always in English”.
The goal according to Krizan, is to get children to have an appropriate level to enter kindergarten.
In order to promote the program and to obtain students, “We go to clinics for pregnant women and set up tables with information. We also work in schools, where we have voluntary students who help us promote the program,” says Soto. “We even stop mothers on the streets.”
The organization does not have specific requirements for candidate admission, but “we target mainly low-income families and families of diverse communities,” Krizan says.
Way to Grow also provides counseling to pregnant teens, or parents who do not have the resources to educate their children. “The organization works with parents after graduation of the children so that they understand how the public education system works and helps them make the best choice for their child,” Krizan says. “Also, it is basic to follow up with the education of their children. It is extremely important that parents worry about the education of their children and get involved in it.”
To contact Way to Grow, call (612) 874-4740. More information “here”:http:www.mplswaytogrow.org