ADULT EDUCATION IN MINNEAPOLIS
In early 2001, FOLC was awarded a grant from the Minnesota Department of Children, Families and Learning for a six-month family literacy pilot program for seven refugee families. The program included English language classes for the adults, early childhood education for preschoolers, parenting information, and Parent and Child Time Together (PACT), a time when parents learn how to support their children's learning through play and other joint activities. The Cedar Riverside People's Center, a neighborhood education and support organization, provided the adult education teachers and space for the adult and early childhood classes. The Children's Home Society supplied an East African early childhood teacher. The adult EL and early childhood curricula were provided by Minneapolis Public Schools.
In response to a survey of the community before the pilot, parents made it clear that they were not interested in learning about child rearing from Americans. They were interested in English language instruction and childcare consistent with their cultural traditions. FOLC struggled with how to respect the parents' wishes and at the same time meet the requirements of a state-sponsored family literacy program.
FOLC decided that the first step was to develop trusting relationships with the parents and create a program that included English literacy instruction and culturally appropriate childcare. After gaining the trust of the parents, the teacher skillfully integrated parent issues into the English literacy curriculum. Parents were introduced to the children's teacher and the PACT teacher and gradually got to know and trust them. By the end of the pilot, all parents demonstrated some measurable improvement in their English language skills.
Building on the success of this pilot project, FOLC and MPS ABE were awarded a four-year Even Start grant to fund the Cedar Riverside Family School. Designed to improve the English literacy skills of families in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood, the program offers English language classes for adults, early childhood education, parent education, and PACT. It incorporates the required curriculum of Even Start and integrates other instruction requested by participants, including computer training, math education, and job training supported by funds from FOLC. Parents in the program get their computer training at Riverside Plaza's Resource Center. Twenty parents and 25 children are currently enrolled in the program.
RESPECTING OTHERS' CUSTOMS
The Cedar Riverside Adult Education partners are sensitive to the cultural differences of their learners and accommodate their customs and traditions in their classes. For example, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, teachers avoid food-related projects and refrain from giving tests, knowing that learners perform better when they are well fed. At the Riverside Plaza Resource Center, a private nonprofit, they provide a place for students to pray. The Resource Center and Coyle staff get help understanding their learners' needs from the Somali and other East African immigrants they employ who are available to translate for learners.
Desta is one of the parents in the Even Start program. She and the other mothers study English, mathematics, geography, history, and computers at the RPTA Resource Center, appreciating the convenience of being able to attend class in the Riverside Plaza complex. They say the class enables them to speak for themselves when running errands, shopping, meeting with their children's teachers, or visiting the doctor's office. They feel better about themselves when they don't have to rely on interpreters. One mother said, "Now I can really help my sons with their school work," and the others nodded in agreement. They say that many more mothers would enroll in the program if they had reliable childcare. The limit on enrollments for children also keeps some mothers who want to attend from participating.