South Philly school opens welcome center for refugee students and families

Steve Tawa
January 22, 2019 - 2:04 pm
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and Pa. Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler stand with students from, Taggart elementary School in South Philly.

Steve Tawa/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A South Philadelphia elementary school with a growing enrollment of refugee students has a new "Family Welcome Center" to help them and their families get settled.

As Mayor Kenney walked into Taggart Elementary School at 4th and Porter streets, student musicians sawed away on their violins. The school is just blocks from where Kenney lived when he was their age. 

Principal Nelson Reyes says the 500 students, pre-K through 8th grade, speak 12 different languages, including Khmer, Vietnamese and Spanish.

"We feel that Taggart is a model of educational, multi-cultural, and multi-lingual inclusivity," Reyes said.

Nearly 40 percent receive English as a Second Language (ESL) services. Bilingual counselors as well as student mentors speak the same language as new students.

Mayor Jim Kenney stands with a student at Taggart Elementary School.
Steve Tawa/KYW Newsradio

Fernando Lescano, 13, an 8th grader, came to the U.S. with his family from Peru in 2016.

"I could not communicate well at first," he said. "but in a shorter time than I thought, I learned English, and I could finally understand what the teacher and everyone else said."

Pa. Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler says her office makes regular visits to compare notes with Taggart bilingual counselors.

"To provide constitutent services to Taggart parents in helping people with government services and programs, to make sure it's as easy as possible, she said.

The Navy Yard-based RevZilla, an eCommerce retailer of motorcycle apparel, parts and accessories, is in its third year of partnering with Taggart, providing school clothing and grade-appropriate supplies. RevZilla's Martina Mansell says many of its workers volunteer at Taggart, because most school systems are "underfunded and underrespected."

"Our future leaders, like Fernando, they are coming up through the system and they can't wait for us to fix it," Mansell said.