Success Stories – Montessori American Indian Childcare Center

LaVon Lee – Program Director

Creating quality cultural programs using indigenous learning methods and practices is an approach making the Montessori American Indian Childcare Center (MAICC) an innovative and successful educational model. Established in 2014, MAICC’s mission is to “access the early childhood needs and academic achievement gap of American Indian children through revitalizing the language and culture.”

As a Four Star Parent Aware institution, they are committed to providing a high-quality and affordable education experience for both children and parents. One hundred percent of children (ages ranging from 33 months to six years) that leave their pre-school are Kindergarten and first grade ready, and 86 percent of children receive early learning scholarships.

One way MAICC provides high-quality education is through the Montessori method. The Montessori method aims to cultivate the child’s own natural desire to learn. In this environment, children are engaged in:

  • Exercises of Practical Life
  • Language—including Native Language
  • Sensorial Experiences
  • Direct and Indirect preparation to become strong Writers and Readers
  • Direct and Indirect preparation for Math

In addition to using the Montessori method, MAICC seeks to embed culture and language in their programs. Children will have the opportunity to:

  • To see and be cared for by American Indian staff
  • To be treated as wakanyeja (sacred little one’s in the Lakota language)
  • To hear native language and oral stories
  • To feel welcome and safe in a beautiful, culturally-reflective environment
  • To explore and experience the wonder of the world around us
  • To speak and develop their native language
  • To share and learn “we are all related”

MAICC offers a variety of opportunities for parents to be engaged with their child’s learning, such as the Parent Nest program. Through this program, parents are given the opportunity to interact with their child in their school environment, and learn about the activities and routines that help build the confidence and ability of their children.

MAICC also facilitates conversations among parents and administrators about future programming. In preparation for the 2018 and 2019 school year, parents participated in a Talking Circle—a tradition rooted in American Indian culture that allows participants to fully share their ideas without interruption. In this conversation, parents offered ideas surrounding child and parent well-being and how to strengthen community connections. The input from parents was used to plan programming for the current school year, and has empowered parents to be engaged in their community. One parent is in a leadership role representing MAICC on the Serving the Whole Child Parent Committee, a partnership of Montessori Partners and Parents.

With their dedication to creating an all-inclusive learning environment, MAICC has made an impact on American Indian families locally. Culture and education go hand-in-hand, and MAICC shows how well the two can provide an all-inclusive experience.

Success Stories – Way to Grow

Carolyn Smallwood – CEO

Megan McLaughlin – Program Director

Way to Grow was founded with one promise: to work every day to change the lives of some of our most vulnerable neighbors.

Way to Grow supports families with children from birth to age eight, and believes that every one of their neighbors is a valued member of our community, and is committed to continuing to fight for education and economic equity for all. As the late Senator Paul Wellstone said, “We all do better when we all do better.” After 29 years, Way to Grow has reached over 68,000 children and their families across Minneapolis. Through the hard work and dedication of staff, community partners, donors, and volunteers, they have helped stabilize families, built networks of services, and prepared children for school.

Effective early learning starts in a stable home. While Way to Grow parents are committed to helping their children succeed in life, overwhelming economic and social barriers often stand in their way. Way to Grow Family Educators get to know each family and work with them to identify their needs, and Resource Advocates work closely with clients to address the challenges they may face by connecting them to critical services. In addition, 29 students receive scholarships to attend a Way to Grow preschool.

Way to Grow’s programming includes the Dream Tracks Teen Parenting Program, which helps educate and prepare parents ages 15–21 for a successful life. Dream Tracks addresses parenting challenges, provides motivation and emotional empowerment, helps parents maintain a focus on academic success and career goals, and provides information on sexual and reproductive health. Additionally, teen parents receive regular home visits and are invited to participate in all events and activities. Not only do these youngest parents feel supported and part of a community, there are fewer repeat pregnancies.


These services exemplify Home Visiting at its most effective. We at MinneMinds are proud to highlight Dream Tracks among Way to Grow’s notable contributions. Last year, Way to Grow saw a number of significant accomplishments:

  • 87% of preschoolers were prepared for kindergarten
  • 100% of teen parents did not have a repeat pregnancy
  • 91% of parents attended a parent-teacher conference
  • Worked with over 100 community partners to provide basic needs and enrichment opportunities
  • Gave 2,353 referrals for basic needs and services were given
  • Family Educators reached more than 2,400 individuals, including more than 1400 children through 11,665 home visits.
  • Throughout the year Way to Grow’s team provided critical support to over 760 families.

Whether they are providing books to build a home library or making referrals to housing opportunities, they are there for families every step of the way. We at MinneMinds are proud to advocate for highly successful and effective programs like Way to Grow.

Success Stories – Listos Preschool and Childcare

Courtney Caron – Program Director
Christina Valdez – Executive Director

Having opened in the fall of 2015, Listos Preschool and Childcare is Rochester’s first dual immersion early learning program, which provides a diverse, inclusive, high-quality bilingual education. The guiding mission is apparent in the name Listos, which means both smart and ready in Spanish, the goal of a curriculum designed to prepare kids for kindergarten and the world.

Listos is the culmination of a grassroots effort to create a high-quality early learning center for children that prioritizes a global curriculum. Accepting children of all language abilities, children at Listos experience art, math, science, music, literacy and movement in both Spanish and English, and through immersion grow to be skilled speakers in each. Thanks to bilingual staff, both Spanish- and English-speaking families can communicate directly with their child’s teachers, without an interpreter.

Immersion has a major positive effect on the 36 children currently enrolled at Listos. Early language learning has positive effects on brain structure, builds a desire to learn well past preschool age, increases curiosity about the world, and builds confidence in language abilities. In an increasingly diverse community, these language skills are vital tools for success for these children now and in their future.

As a Four Star Parent Aware rated program, Listos receives coaching and evaluations ensuring the highest quality early learning environment possible, and provides supports to families to apply to receive Early Learning Scholarships. As the demand for this type of culturally-relevant program grows, scholarships will be a major resource to keep this opportunity affordable and accessible.

Currently, seven children receive support from Early Learning Scholarships, with another 11 receiving School Readiness Scholarships. This funding is crucial in helping families afford this high-quality early learning opportunity – but these scholarships cannot cover the full costs, and several families are on waiting lists. To assist families, Listos accepts tax-deductible donations  and offers internal scholarships for families most in need. Listos also seeks out grants and holds fundraisers to support programming, outreach and scholarships throughout the year.

This is not the only way that Listos helps families. They also empower families to read to their children in their home language and promote the understanding of the effectiveness of literacy skill transfer between languages. Listos also has a Community Literacy Program providing parents with opportunities, age-appropriate reading materials, resources, support and guidance for reading to their children in Spanish. Those skills give children a strong foundation to be successful readers in kindergarten.

Listos has quickly become a key member of the community and actively seeks out partners to build upon its programming. Partnerships include celebrations of Hispanic Heritage Month with the Minnesota Children’s Museum of Rochester, activities at the Rochester International World Festival, and monthly Spanish-language storytimes at the Rochester Public Library.

Together, the curriculum and partnerships are making a strong impact for children and families. 100% of Listos graduates meet the research-based national standards of kindergarten readiness as defined in the 38 domains in Teaching Strategies Gold. It’s providers like Listos that show the positive impact that high-quality early childhood care and education make every day for Minnesota’s youngest learners.

Success Stories – Northside Achievement Zone

Sondra Samuels – President & CEO

One of Minnesota’s pioneering early childhood care and education leaders, the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) has been a positive force for children and families in Minneapolis since its beginning in 2012. A collaborative of over 40 partners, their community-focused approach has provided strong education outcomes for youth, compassionate guidance for parents, and real results for Minneapolis.


The Northside Achievement Zone mission is to “end generational poverty and build a culture of achievement in North Minneapolis where all low-income children of color graduate from high school college- and career-ready.” NAZ believes that all children are “scholars” reflecting their potential and inspiring the belief that children can and will go to college with coordinate systems of support from pre-natal to 18 years of age. Facing one of the worst opportunity gaps in the country for children of color, The Northside Achievement Zone is focused on improving outcomes for children with four goals:

1. Increase kindergarten readiness from 28% to 80%
2. Reading at grade-level by third grade from 16% to 70%
3. Grade-level math proficiency by eighth grade from 29% to 70%
4. Graduating on time, prepared for college from 51% to 80%

One key way NAZ is working towards achieving these outcomes is by fully incorporating parents and families into a child’s education through their family academies. These classes provide tools and strategies for parents to prepare their child for a lifetime of success. Classes are evidence-based and incorporate input from families who partner with NAZ. Additionally, families are connected with a licensed clinical social worker who meets face to face with families and works to understand their needs and to support children with behavioral health needs.

NAZ Family Achievement Coaches partner with North Minneapolis families to illuminate a path to college and bring in support along the way. Family Achievement Coaches work side by side with parents to propel NAZ scholars effectively through the NAZ solutions to college and beyond. The Family Achievement Coach builds trusting relationships, inspire a deep commitment from parents, and solidify the belief that their children will graduate from college.

Only 25% of children living in North Minneapolis start kindergarten ready to learn which is why NAZ is providing 148 state-funded scholarships in Fiscal Year 2018, to attend three- and four-star rated early childhood centers where children get the support they need. The latest data from NAZ showed that 209 children were enrolled in high-quality early learning centers in 2017.

Taken together, the results show that this access to high-quality early learning is making a big difference for these children. Participants in NAZ with early learning program and parent education classes were 2.5 times more likely to be ready for Kindergarten than their peers. These effects carry throughout a child’s education: children who participated in NAZ had higher math and reading proficiency scores though 8th grade than their peers who did not participate.

According to a report from the Wilder Research Foundation, the return on investment is $6 for every $1 spent. More than the economics, the Northside Achievement Zone is providing real results and opportunities for young learners who have been left behind. The Northside Achievement Zone is a true example of the power of early learning care and education that children and families deserve.

Success Stories – YWCA Minneapolis

Vice President of Early Childhood Education – Stephanie Thomas

Located in the heart of Minneapolis and throughout the Twin Cities, YWCA Minneapolis Children’s Centers are immersive, high-quality child care centers that provide a superb education for children, and fully engage parents and families with an array of supportive programming. Four-Star Parent Aware-rated facilities, the Centers use every tool at their disposal to help children succeed. Committed to eliminating racism and empowering women, YWCA is a crucial member of the MinneMinds coalition.

YWCA Minneapolis is eliminating the education gap for all children enrolled in their Children’s Centers. Consistently more than 90% percent of preschoolers met rigorous early learning standards, prepared to succeed in kindergarten; and more than 90% of infants through preschoolers were developmentally on track. Children and families across our community have access to play-based programming that takes a whole child learning approach – covering social, emotional, cognitive, and physical development while promoting self-esteem.

Seventy-two families received state early learning scholarship support, and another 235 families benefited from CCAP (Child Care Assistance Program). In the YWCA community Children’s Centers, 75 percent were children of color, and 65 percent were children living in low-income households, with 59 percent of these children living in households below the federal poverty line.

With a low child to teacher ratio at YWCA Minneapolis Children’s Centers, children receive dedicated and personalized instruction and care. The curriculum follows the YWCA Minneapolis Anti- Bias Curriculum, a child-initiated, play and anti-bias based approach and Early Childhood Education Specialists assist with child assessments, behavior guidance, curriculum, and family resources. Additionally, thanks to a partnership with the Minnesota Reading Corps, preschool literacy tutors are available to help children improve their reading development.

YWCA Minneapolis has robust opportunities for families and children to enhance their physical and emotional health. Each newly enrolled family receives a free one-year Health and Wellness family membership, which is included on-site. Swimming lessons are part of the curriculum and are offered September through May, as are on-site music classes and use of fitness spaces.

Health is also a focus on the menu. All infant formula, baby food and other food (breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack) are prepared fresh each day. The nutrition program focuses on whole grains, whole foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, and ethnically diverse foods while minimizing sodium, sugar, saturated fats, food dyes and artificial ingredients.

Parents are involved daily through communication with teachers and regular conferences, each center builds family events that are unique to their site and the families they serve. Children receive research-based, developmentally appropriate assessments completed at regular intervals. The YWCA Minneapolis Children’s Centers also feature free screenings and the ability to access assessment and therapeutic services (occupational, speech and physical therapy) on-site through a partnership program.

The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has also listed YWCA Minneapolis Downtown Children’s Center as one of the ten programs on its website that is exemplary in its family engagement practices. These practices are defined as:

  • Programs invite families to participate in decision-making and goal-setting for their child.
  • Teachers and programs engage families in two-way communication.
  • Programs and teachers engage families in ways that are truly reciprocal.
  • Programs provide learning activities for the home and in the community.
  • Programs invite families to participate in program-level decisions and wider advocacy efforts.
  • Programs implement a comprehensive program-level system of family engagement.

YWCA Minneapolis also has an Early Childhood Teacher Development program to help build a skilled and diverse early childhood education workforce. Participants receive education and support to become expert early childhood teachers and earn a Child Development Associate Credential.

Committed to eliminating racism and empowering women, YWCA Minneapolis is a crucial member of the MinneMinds coalition and delivers consistent high-quality early childhood care and education to children and families.

Success Stories – Invest Early

Executive Director – Jan Reindl

The need for high-quality early childhood care and education is growing, especially in greater Minnesota. Research also shows that investing in early childhood care and education provides a strong return on investment and positive outcomes for Minnesota’s most vulnerable children and families.

One provider that is delivering high-quality early childcare and education in greater Minnesota is the Invest Early Initiative, a comprehensive early childhood collaborative of four school districts and KOOTASCA Head Start in Itasca County, Minnesota, that serves young children and their families. In fact, it is the largest rural early care and education program in Minnesota.

Invest Early provides high-quality early childhood care and education to low-income children and families (the median income for families was $23,982 in 2015-2016), who have an average of 3-4 additional risk factors. Their programs offer a comprehensive, whole family approach, providing children with stable learning environments, and parents with a menu of supports including mental health, family development, and parent education.

As a four-star Parent Aware-rated facility, Invest Early is committed to providing high-quality care by employing licensed instructors and child care providers, providing a safe, stimulating learning environment, supporting a play-based learning environment through hands-on activities, employing developmentally appropriate activities, serving healthy meals and snacks, and creating individualized learning plans.

Currently, 69 children receive support from early learning scholarships, helping to make high-quality care accessible to their families.

The results are clear: students served by Invest Early are succeeding, and do better than many of their peers. Two out of three students from Invest Early are ready for kindergarten, compared with only half of a low-income comparison group.

We know that this early success has long-term positive impacts on children – both 3rd and 5th graders who had been Invest Early students performed better on MCA reading and math tests than other low-income students statewide.  Not only does early childhood care and education improve outcomes for children now, but also in their future schooling.

Invest Early has also committed to a community view for supporting early care and education throughout the region, working with multiple partners like Itasca County Health and Human Services, Public Health, Children’s Mental Health, Itasca Community College, Early Childhood Special Education and other licensed child care providers. Together, they recognize that quality childcare is an asset not just for parents and families, but every member of the community.

The Invest Early Initiative has a track record of positive results for hundreds of families in Northern Minnesota, and provides a model for how rural areas can develop partnerships to implement effective, high-quality early childhood care and education.

Success Stories – Playhouse Childcare Center, Inc.

Center Director Heather Freese

On January 22nd, the MinneMinds campaign hosted a gubernatorial conversation in St. Cloud, Minnesota featuring two candidates for governor, State Representatives Tina Liebling and Erin Murphy. As our first forum in Greater Minnesota, it was an opportunity for candidates to learn more about some of the unique challenges many families and providers face in Greater Minnesota.

The forum was also provided an opportunity to learn more about some of the ways child care providers are innovating, and how they are adapting to challenges, which was on display at Playhouse Child Care Center Inc. This Four-Star Parent Aware-rated facility is delivering high-quality results for children and is meeting the needs of a diverse set of parents and families in St. Cloud.

What makes Playhouse unique is its partnership with Reach-Up Head Start. This partnership provides more high-quality care for local, low-income families to prepare them for kindergarten, including additional staff that can spend more quality one on one time with kids. In the classrooms that have these staff, the ratio for caregiver to child is 1:7 vs 1:10 for other rooms. While this may not seem like much, it can provide strong benefits for children and their development.

It’s also important that children are given the tools to succeed at every level of development. Research shows that 90% of brain development occurs by the age of five – it’s crucial during these years that kids are on track. At Playhouse, each level of a child’s development has age-appropriate programming, from infant, toddler, preschool to school-age. This programming covers everything from what children eat, how much rest they get, to their outdoor play time.

Playhouse is committed to serving the diverse set of families in St. Cloud. Considering its location near St. Cloud Community and Technical College, Playhouse serves many parents who are students at the college – providing multigenerational benefits for students advancing their own education while their children receive high-quality care.

At Playhouse, 33 families receive funding from CCAP and 34 children currently receive state early learning scholarships. Demand for high-quality care is growing, and the center doubled in size in 2016 – and has slots available for 96 families, a number that will continue to grow.

Access to high-quality care and education is crucial to the health and well-being of Minnesota’s families and children. MinneMinds is committed to increasing this access, but also to finding flexible ways to deliver this crucial need. Many early care providers are working to find ways to innovate and deliver results, and the partnership between Playhouse and Head Start is just one way.

Playhouse Child Care Center Inc.’s goal “is for each child to develop a sense of positive self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth providing the foundation for children to prepare them for school readiness.” With their Head Start partnership, funding from early learning scholarships, and Four-Star Parent Aware rating, Playhouse Child Care Center Inc. is an example of high-quality care made possible by state early learning investment.

Success Stories – Joyce Preschool

Executive Director Laura Tompkins

The MinneMinds coalition has partners across the state that embrace key values, provide innovation, and take child-centered approaches that provide meaningful and long-lasting positive benefits for Minnesota’s children and families. These programs are leading the way in providing high-quality early childhood care and education.

MinneMinds knows that high-quality early childhood care and education improves outcomes, and key partners like Joyce Preschool, a Spanish-immersion school, are making this happen for children and families every day. Their high-quality, research-driven and culturally relevant programming have delivered consistent results for children and parents alike. In a city where only 36% of Spanish-speaking students are kindergarten-ready, 100% of Joyce’s graduates in the past six years have been ready for kindergarten.


Joyce is a 4-star Parent-Aware rated, bilingual, multicultural preschool that provides culturally relevant programming for its students and is rooted in equity. In Minneapolis, 41% of Hispanic children live in poverty, which can contribute to obesity, food insecurity, and toxic stress — all of which affect a child’s ability to succeed in school. At Joyce, children are in a nurturing environment that meets each of their unique needs and provides necessary support.

Joyce’s takes a multigenerational approach with a simple perspective: “to give children their best opportunities, we don’t just enroll preschoolers, but work in partnership with families. At-home circumstances affect in-school success, so classroom time isn’t enough on its own: we emphasize empowering, educating, and involving our families.” At Joyce, 100% of parents are directly involved in their student’s education.

Access to high-quality early childhood care and education is critical to a child’s life, but too often is out of reach for low-income families. At Joyce, 25% of students receive state early learning scholarships that cover the full cost of tuition, including transportation costs. Thanks to this support, families and parents who may not be able to afford high-quality early education are able to, which can provide much-needed stability. With increased investment in state early learning scholarships, even more families could benefit.

The best outcomes for children and families come when they are given the environment to succeed, and provided the support they need. By increasing access to high-quality early childhood care and education, like the programs offered at Joyce Preschool, Minnesota’s most vulnerable children and families can be given the tools to succeed now and in the future.