“School I Like” – Adult ESL at Riverside Plaza


Ibrahim Nasir, 76, peered down at his keyboard, perplexed but determined. 

After a belabored bout of hunting, pecking and squinting up at the screen, it was finally out: “Abraaaaaaaaahiim nasir,” his assignment read. 

Nasir’s teacher, Karen Amit, circled the computer lab, checking in on her students’ progress. She’s taught English as a Second Language (ESL) courses to adults at Riverside Plaza since 2007. This was her second week with Nasir’s introductory Level 2 class.

The class, which meets at the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association (RPTA) facility, draws students who live in the apartment complex and the surrounding neighborhood. Last year nearly 450 students, ranging from 18 to 80 years old, took the free courses through the adult ESL program, RPTA Director Fredda Scobey said. The immersion program, now funded in part by the Minneapolis Public School system, was started in 1996. It employs eight teachers.

They offer classes for more advanced English learners, as well as courses geared toward the job hunt. Many students speak multiple native languages, and everyone is thrown into one English-speaking pot.

High-rise ghettos or urban villages?
Are the Riverside Plaza and Seward high-rise apartment complexes, home to low-income residents for more than 35 years, “beyond merely shabby” and filled with crime? Or are they “a vital and fascinating mix of cultures … a series of villages in the city with the opportunity to begin life in the United States among one’s countrymen?” Our series highlights concerns and facts, featuring the voices and stories of people who live and work in the communities. Click here for links to all of the articles in the series.

In any given class there’s a mix of students from countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Egypt, the Dominican Republic, Vietnam, Kenya or Korea.

Nasir, who used to live in the North African country of Eritrea, has been in the United States for two and a half years.

Amit made her way across the room and to his station, quickly sizing up his needs.

She doubled the font size, so it was easier for him to see. Nasir looked relieved.

“Push! Push!” she said, showing him how to use the delete key.

“Push! Push!” he said, complying with her instructions.

The room hummed with mouse clicks and typing. After a minute or two of studious revisions, Nasir looked up and beamed.

“Ibrahim Nasir,” his assignment read.