Somali-run literacy program moves from Elliot Park

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January 12, 2004 // UPDATED 2:32 pm - April 24, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Ubah Educational Services, a literacy program founded by Somali immigrants in Elliot Park, has relocated to Downtown's northern edge, moving into the International Education Center.

The move has disrupted classes for many students who previously walked to the 609 S. 10th St. tutoring sessions from their homes in Elliot Park or nearby neighborhoods south of Downtown.

Now, there are plans for a coffee shop and art gallery at the site. (See page 4 Business news.)

Some of the students, either confused by the new location or put off by a longer commute, have dropped out of the program, said Fara Nur, a program manager for the Ubah school.

About 60 immigrants, mostly Somalis, currently attend night classes at the International Education Center, 277 12th Ave. N. -- a building on the far northern end of the Warehouse District. At its peak, the five-year-old school had 160 students.

Ubah program staff severed ties with the Minnesota Literacy Council in mid-December. The council had provided about $350,000 a year to the program since 2001.

Eric Nesheim, Minnesota Literacy Council executive director, said the Ubah school failed to document student progress through tests and other outcome-based studies, as the state required for funding.

Nesheim insisted on the tests, but Ubah school staff members resisted and decided to break away from the council, he said.

"The disagreement arose because there are certain requirements that we needed to have in order to get the funding," he said. "You need to show outcomes. ... That's where the problem arose."

Nesheim said he wanted to see the program stay connected to the literacy council. The Ubah school is unique in that it is one of the few Twin Cities advocacy programs founded and run by East African immigrants.

"We wanted to keep the program open. We wanted to make sure those learners were served, and we were happy to have them," he said.

Nesheim said the literacy council has put in calls to Ubah's students to assist them in finding locations for other English classes. The council urges people who need help finding a tutoring program to call its Adult Literacy Hotline at 800-222-1900.

Meanwhile, Ubah classes continue across town. Ubah tutors insist the program provides invaluable services to immigrants, many of whom struggle with basic English.

Nur said many Somali immigrants are familiar with the program before they arrive in Minnesota. Former Ubah school students have gone on to become city bus drivers and attend nursing school, among other things, he said.