WE WIN Institute is rooted in Titilayo Bediako’s experiences as a teacher in Minneapolis. Titi used to teach at Lyndale Community School, and she found that her students got more excited about lessons with ties to their own cultures. So when she assigned book reports, she encouraged her students to write about heroes from their own communities. When the holiday season came, she organized a classroom Kwanzaa celebration that was so popular it went school-wide.
In 1995, Titi took a leap of faith, using a small pot of grant funds to start WE WIN. “She wanted to do more in terms of shifting how you teach kids,” said her daughter, Sindiswa Georgiades. WE WIN started out as one program serving 20 children. Today, the institute works with more than 250 students at five sites in Minneapolis and Robbinsdale.
WE WIN runs in-school, after-school, and summer programs in which kids participate in a range of academic and social activities, from reading to African drumming. Its mission is to build the confidence and skills of children by giving them knowledge and experiences that celebrate their cultural roots.
Parents are a key part of WE WIN. About five years ago, the institute started holding monthly meetings where parents of WE WIN students could talk about how to actively engage with their children’s schools. Parents began turning to the group for support as they navigated individual issues, such as a child’s referral to special education or threatened expulsion.
Quickly, the program grew into something more. “As we were helping parents advocate for their own kids, they were also discussing policies that were a hindrance to them,” said Sindiswa, who is now a consultant for WE WIN. The parents—many of whom are single moms who struggle to earn a living, let alone find time to volunteer at school—were learning things like what questions to ask during teacher conferences. But they were also learning that they wanted more input in key decisions, such as the hiring of a new principal. And they wanted policies that would better enable parents of color to hold schools accountable when they experienced discriminatory practices.
What happened next still amazes Sindiswa: The parents got involved, far beyond attending teacher conferences. They developed policy recommendations and presented them to the school board. They met with legislators. Several joined their school site council. Others joined a county committee tasked with promoting alternatives to juvenile detention.
WE WIN continues to build on these successes, both by working to expand its parent group and by engaging with schools to help them deepen their collaboration with parents. For students to thrive, Sindiswa said, “We all have to work together – parents, out-of-school programs, and schools.”