The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

April 18, 2007

Immigrants getting mobile

Class helps newcomers earn driver's licenses

MANKATO — Many new immigrants and refugees move to south-central Minnesota looking for a new job, change of lifestyle and quality education.

But it’s hard to accomplish any of those aspirations without transportation to get to work, school or a store.

A new class at Lincoln Community Center is aiming to help those new residents get their driver’s license.

The 10-week course is free —through a $23,000 one-year grant — and takes students all they way up to a permit test, and will even offer 10 hours of practice driving sessions (that is, if the program can net a couple of donated cars).

It’s offered cooperatively through Mankato Adult Basic Education, VINE Faith in Action and Blue Earth County.

Two different classroom sections — for students at different levels of English proficiency — meet on Friday and Saturday mornings.

Many of the immigrant students don’t know the basics of a car or even understand the meaning of many road signs, said Marcia Highum, a Blue Earth County employment services supervisor.

But the need to get around is high — so much so that some drive illegally — and the education is vital, she said.

“They were always saying they need some driver’s education,” Highum said. “They are eager. They want to come more than we have the class scheduled.”

That rings true for students such as Mone Al Sogoor, a Saudi Arabian immigrant who has been living in Mankato for about three months.

“I can’t use the car in my country,” she said. “I like doing this class. I need it.”

The class has been hugely popular thus far.

The first series of classes are booked full with 32 students, and there’s a waiting list for another session tentatively scheduled to begin in May.

It draws a diverse crowd, too, although most participants are from Africa.

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