Blaine ESL students learn lessons on bus, at crepe shop

Staff Writer
Since 2013, I have primarily covered the Anoka-Hennepin and Spring Lake Park school districts as well as the city of Spring Lake Park for ABC Newspapers.

Adult students who studied English as a second language alongside Oksana Goldenstein at the Blaine Learning Lab were happy to see her finding success as a new business owner in downtown Minneapolis.

Joanna Hubbard, with Metro Transit, teaches Blaine Learning Lab ESL students how to use transfers on the buses. Photo by Olivia Alveshere
Joanna Hubbard, with Metro Transit, teaches Blaine Learning Lab ESL students how to use transfers on the buses. Photo by Olivia Alveshere

Goldenstein, originally from Russia, but now living in Coon Rapids, opened Crepes Up Delicious three months ago in the Canadian Pacific Building.

Current ESL students’ trip downtown Nov. 23 served a dual purpose, according to North Metro Adult Basic Education instructor Polina Huffman. Not only did she hope students would be inspired by Goldenstein’s story, but she intended for them to learn how to use public transportation on the bus ride to and from Minneapolis.

Many students had never ridden the bus before. Some had never been downtown.

So far this year, the Blaine Learning Lab has served students from 59 countries who speak 40 different languages, according to Molly Stewart, program supervisor at the site.

Many students are originally from the United States, but large numbers have come from Mexico, Iraq, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Somalia, Moldova and other places around the world to settle in Minnesota, Stewart said.

Apart from English, the top languages students speak are Spanish, Arabic, Oromo, Somali, Vietnamese and Russian, according to Stewart.

Four levels of ESL classes are available to students free of charge, and students spend an average of six months to one year in each level.

“We have quite a few people follow through,” Stewart said.

About 30 students headed downtown last week.

Joanna Hubbard and Yumi Nagaoka, both of whom are employees of Metro Transit and speak English as a second language, led a lesson on how to use the public buses.

The women covered ride fare, bus etiquette, bus safety and much more.

They particularly stressed dressing for the weather. Many Blaine Learning Lab students will experience their first Minnesota winter this year, some never having seen snow.

If the bus is running late, “you’re out there freezing,” Hubbard said. “It’s uncomfortable, and it’s dangerous.”

The duo also went over how to recover lost items, noting particularly unusual items left on the bus in the past: a caged tarantula, small swimming pool, vacuum cleaner and more.

“We just hope to make transportation accessible for everybody,” Hubbard said. “That will be a big part of their success.”

Once downtown, students exited the bus and walked several blocks to Crepes Up Delicious.

Goldenstein hugged old friends, but quickly disappeared behind the counter, serving up a new crepe every minute or so for the next 45 minutes with the help of her daughter.

Oksana Goldenstein, right, greets former Metro North Adult Basic Education classmates at her new restaurant, Crepes Up Delicious. Photo by Olivia Alveshere
Oksana Goldenstein, right, greets former Metro North Adult Basic Education classmates at her new restaurant, Crepes Up Delicious. Photo by Olivia Alveshere

“I’m very glad to come and see how my friend’s doing,” said Valentina Nakonechnaya, of Blaine.

Nakonechnaya rode the bus for the first time, and will likely ride frequently in the future to avoid downtown parking.

Sumayah Ali, of Spring Lake Park, has only been in the United States for 20 days, arriving from Iraq.

She jumped into ESL classes right away and hopes to find a job in engineering.

“The teachers are very helpful and kind with us,” she said.

Arshed Thanon, of Coon Rapids, is also relatively new to the country, having arrived from Iraq only two months ago. He has been in ESL classes for two weeks and agrees that the teachers are wonderful, answering all of his questions. He enjoyed his crepe immensely, he said.

Huffman hopes the field trip showed students that there are many paths to success.

“You don’t always have to go the traditional route,” she said. “There is a light, and this is not a tunnel.”

Goldenstein, who opened Crepes Up Delicious three months ago, credits Huffman for much of her success.

“Polina supported me,” she said. “She was the only one who knew about my business.”

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