Immigrants use weekly English poetry class to learn the language



ST. CLOUD, Minn. – A group of writers gathered Thursday evening in a room in the Great River Regional Library, sipping cups of Somali tea and tasting slices of pie while browsing through poetry displayed in small glass centerpieces at the front of the room.

The event celebrated the work of immigrants enrolled in a weekly English Learner’s class operating out of the La Cruz community center. As of 2020, the Adult Basic Education class has been teaching students English and other life skills through poetry, the St. Cloud Times reported.

As you walked around the tables, you could read poems about Somalia, adjusting to life in the United States, and the emotional journey of leaving your homeland and family.

As the class moved online during the pandemic, teacher and literary accountability specialist Kelly Travis said the class would read poems together and talk about feelings aroused by poetry.

Sometimes they would write poems in class, and other days they would come and type their poems to improve their computer skills. Then the students would email the poem to their teachers, learning how to compose an email and navigate an inbox.

Travis said many students had been in the class for five years or more, with some leaving and returning later. Usually, students work full time, are parents, and come with a previous education, either here in the United States or in the county they emigrated from.

Pre-pandemic classes like these were very popular, but now Travis has said there is no waiting list.

“All these (students), they don’t have to. And it shows how much they want to learn English and how much they want to assimilate, and how much they want to go to school,” she said. “It’s something they’re proud of. They have their own goals and get it done.”

Thursday was the first time the class had hosted an event like this. School principal Mary Mulbah said she wanted to involve students in the large community of St. Cloud.

Throughout the pandemic, Travis said she and Mulbah noticed that students needed more mental breaks while taking the online course, and partnered with community health worker and psychotherapist Kahin Adam to incorporate a weekly healing journaling component.

“(Somalia is) known as a nation of poets,” said Adam. “For centuries, Somalis have used poetry to express their feelings and the things they want to say to other members of the community.”

Adam said that writing helps people organize their thoughts and gives meaning to traumatic experiences. Journaling can also reduce stress by releasing negative emotions.

“I remember when they were really writing and talking about their personal stories, it was really, really hard to listen to,” he said. “But at the same time, at the end of the day, when they’ve written and we’ve been thinking and summarizing the things they’ve written, you can say the relief of saying it together… and understand that, ‘Hey, I understand what you are writing, thank you for being vulnerable. ‘”

Mulbah said that teaching poetry is difficult at first because you have to teach both what the different styles and genres of poetry are, and also how to express how you feel in English.

“It’s pretty neat to see the choice of words, their reaction to poetry, because I think like when you read a book, you know, everyone has a different reaction,” she said. declared.

Although some students chose not to put their names on the poems posted Thursday, having the space to share that poetry was meaningful, Mulbah said.

“I wanted to… show them ‘Look what we did’, right? Because when you write something in your notebook it often gets crumpled or tidy and you don’t look at it anymore.” she declared. “Our students also sometimes have low self-esteem when they think, ‘I don’t know English’. … Maybe we gave you a vocabulary list, or maybe we gave you a structure, but you did it, you wrote it, you practiced. And you have done it over and over again. So it’s cool to see the product of what they did and they see that. “



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