Learning In Style has provided over 5,000 adult immigrant and refugees with English language education. They currently have 250 students: 78% from Somalia, and 22% from Asia, the Americas, and other African nations. 80% of the students are women.
The school is run by a staff of 18 people including 14 teachers, and by 30 volunteers.
In addition to their work in English Language Learning, LIS also strives to break down other areas of difficulty for new immigrants offering computer proficiency, citizenship, and math classes as a part of their curriculum. A part of Minneapolis Public Schools ESL Consortium, the school offers continuous enrollment during the year and also offers on-site childcare for children ages 6 weeks to 4 years while the parent is in English class.
Director Martha Nemesi also recognizes the difficulties students face beyond language in simply coming to a new place, and the school is proactive in addressing these needs. The school has moved to a 4 day a week class schedule and provides optional Life Skills workshops for their students on Fridays. These workshops focus on aspects of American culture that can be challenging for immigrants, including managing police interaction, legal aid, healthcare, and job related issues.
Workshops also include off-site trips to places that may be unfamiliar or uninviting to a person in a new place. Nemesi reflects on a recent trip to Minneapolis Institute of Art, referencing the intimidating nature of the building, saying, “If I’m a stranger here I’m not going to go into that building. We want to encourage our students that these are places that belong to them as well.” That trip resulted in all participants becoming members of Mia. Another recent trip was to the Central Library, which provided a guided tour of the library and all its resources; all participants left with library cards. These trips do a great deal in encouraging students to engage with their new landscape and expand their comfort zone as new members in the community.
In addition to their great work in education and outreach, Learning In Style continues their dedication to community with their on-site second hand store, The Clothes Closet. Open every Wednesday and Thursday from 11:00am-2:00pm, The Clothes Closet provides clean, gently used clothing, housewares, bedding, and unused toiletries free of charge. When asked about the Clothes Closet’s origin Martha laughs and remarks that it was born out of one of the founding sister’s experience in thrifting, and that they “just kind of had the space”. However it is another example of how LIS strives to help their students on their journey and the community at large. The Clothes Closet is open to everyone and accepts donations during their open hours; a full list of accepted items can be found on their website.
Learning in Style School continues to demonstrate an extraordinary dedication to community by truly living up to its mission of “Empowering adult immigrants through education”, striving to be a full service stop on a person's journey to a new home. Nemesi feels “they are in the right neighborhood to serve their mission” and is grateful to have students who are “passionate about learning”. From the perspective of Whittier Alliance, the gratitude is mutual.