They came from Somalia and Syria, Ethiopia and Uzbekistan — as diverse in age and race as they were in culture and religion.
Before them stood Bloomington police officer Heidi Miller with the day's lesson: fraud prevention.
There were no caps and gowns, but it was graduation day at the New American's Academy, and the students, ranging from teenagers to senior citizens, listened raptly as Miller lectured them on the different scams that usually target immigrants, and how to protect themselves from identity theft.
It was the seventh and final monthly lesson in the course designed by the Hennepin County Joint Community Police Partnership, a coalition of departments in seven suburban metro cities staffed with community liaisons who for the past three years have coordinated the academy for immigrants.
During the course held at Metro South School in Bloomington, students learned skills integral to living in the United States, including how to safely interact with police, traffic safety and tickets, tenants' rights, domestic violence and child protection, and how to navigate the immigration and criminal justice system.
The course is designed not only to educate immigrants but also to teach them to feel comfortable around police officers, and to assure them they are there to help. The results can be mutually beneficial, said Bloomington Police Chief Jeff Potts.
"These folks come from different countries where they sometimes don't trust police, they don't call the police," Potts said. "However, we are encouraging them to call police if they face any kind of problem or see crime. We are trying to make them comfortable and have them realize that they are part of our community."
And the efforts appeared successful. One 18-year-old from Somalia remarked that he believed all cops were bad, and even turned the other way when he saw one. After the sessions, he said, his stance "completely changed" now that he knows his rights and responsibilities.
Kamola Salimova, 30, an Uzbekistani American, said the course was helpful and informative. "Indeed, I got a lot of information about the citizenship and how to get assistance from government agencies," she said.
At the beginning of the course, each student was given a "passport" with information on each of the seven subjects, along with contact information for each presenter. A page was stamped after each lesson. And after receiving their final stamp, the students received a certificate.
When class was dismissed, the graduates were in no hurry to leave. They gathered at the front of the room with more questions for Miller and the other officers about life in the United States. Others clustered around a key staple at any American celebration — the cake.