A tray of hummus was wrapped in a big red, white, and blue (with stars) ribbon. Arabic dance tunes were followed by "Yankee Doodle Dandy" and "Hail to the Chief." Conversations in English occasionally detoured into Arabic or Chinese.
The blend of cultures was world-class on Wednesday as 60 immigrants from as many as 40 nations took a cruise on the Maumee River to celebrate the end of the school year and their English to Speakers of Other Languages class.
The leisurely lunchtime cruise aboard the Sandpiper included a potluck smorgasbord worthy of the United Nations, with chicken dishes, sliced beef, pasta, a variety of rice dishes, tabbouleh, hummus, plantains, and an array of desserts.
Students of all ages and nations line-danced to Arabic pop music and sang along in an enthusiastic, if slightly off-key, rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner."
"They love America. They love our flag," said Sister Marsha Kaiser, a Notre Dame nun who teaches morning classes in the Owens Community College ESOL at Washington Local Schools. "They love American history. One student wanted to know all about the War of 1812 -- I had to do some research!"
Najwa Badawi, who has taught ESOL at Owens for 12 years, said the course's goal is to help immigrants improve their English language skills for reading, writing, and speaking. It prepares them for the citizenship test by teaching American history and political structure.
Owens offers ESOL courses throughout the area. Mrs. Badawi said more than 100 people were enrolled in the free course that meets three times a week at Washington Local Schools' Westwood Building.
Mrs. Badawi, who won the ESOL Teacher of the Year award in 2009, said she adheres to the U.S. Department of Education's standards and benchmarks for teaching students to listen actively, speak so others can understand, read with understanding, and convey ideas in writing.
As part of the course, she took the students on field trips to the Toledo Museum of Art, the Toledo mayor's office, an apple orchard in the fall ("an all-American experience," Mrs. Badawi said), Wildwood Metropark's Manor House at Christmastime, and the University of Toledo's Ritter Planetarium.
"We take students into the community for real-life application of class lessons," Mrs. Badawi said. "We encourage students to volunteer at schools, churches, and other groups so they will develop their English skills."
Her students spanned the spectrum in ages, education levels, and nationalities. Among the countries that the Sandpiper passengers hailed from were Eritrea, Somalia, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Mexico, Taiwan, Thailand, China, and Morocco.
Imam Ahmed Abou Seif, 38, the spiritual leader of the Toledo Muslim Community Center, credited the ESOL class for boosting his English skills since his arrival at the West Toledo mosque from Egypt a little over a year ago.
"The class is really good. They try all the time to make us grow up. It's not difficult, but it's not easy," Imam Abou Seif said.
Nabiya Idriouan, 28, who moved to Toledo from Morocco a year ago, accepted a slice of watermelon from Bader Khriwish, 42, who moved to the United States from Amman, Jordan, six years ago.
"The class has helped a lot with communication, with talking to people," said Mrs. Idriouan, who taught French in Morocco. "America is very, very, very beautiful. The people are very nice and friendly."
Hayde Delaflor, 46, a psychologist from Sinaloa, Mexico, has been in Toledo five years and has taken the ESOL course several times.
"I need to learn English, and it helps to speak with people from other countries. We can find new friends. The class feels like we're family because we are far from family and friends back home," she said.
Mrs. Delaflor danced in the Sandpiper's aisle with 4-year-old Mulki Sayid, who wore a blue hijab, or head scarf. Her mother, Shamso Sayid, moved to Toledo from Bay, Somalia, four years ago.
"I love the class -- everything about it. I learned English quick," Mrs. Sayid said. "America is a beautiful country. Very nice. Friendly."
Munir Abdelaziz, 37, was born in Jordan and lived in Libya most of his life but returned to Jordan just before the Libyan revolution began in February, 2011. He moved to Toledo a month ago.
"Next week maybe I'll go to McDonald's [to apply for a job]," he said. "I don't want money. I just want to talk to people."
Contact David Yonke at: email@example.com or 419-724-6154.