Bilingual books donated to Southwark School

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Chubb gave 1,000 bilingual storybooks to kindergarteners and first graders throughout the school district.

On Tuesday, Chubb donated 1,000 bilingual storybooks to kindergarteners and first graders throughout the School District of Philadelphia. Robert Poliseno, regional executive officer, Mid-Atlantic Region of Chubb, reads the featured book to elementary students of Southwark. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

Elementary students of Southwark School collected on a colorful carpet on Tuesday where they listened to a story starring Sesame Street characters.

Although Bert and Ernie’s endeavors kept the crowd captivated, the children were perhaps especially engrossed, because the book being read aloud was portrayed in both English and Spanish.

And for the majority of these South Philly students, that felt familiar.

Last week, Chubb, the world’s largest publicly traded property and casualty insurance company and the largest commercial insurer in the U.S., according to its website, donated 1,000 copies of “Book Buddies,” a bilingual illustrated book featuring personalities of Sesame Street to every kindergartener and first grader in the 12 designated Community Schools throughout the School District of Philadelphia, including Southwark in the East Passyunk Crossing neighborhood.

“We’re a global insurance company with employees all over the world,” said Robert Poliseno, regional executive officer, Mid-Atlantic Region of Chubb, who read to the students. “But we really try to serve our local communities and give back to our local communities where our employees live and work. … The population in Philadelphia caters to multilingual populations, so we just thought it would be helpful to have children that can read in both languages, reading in Spanish and reading in English.”

Appointed by the Mayor’s Office of Education, the Community Schools initiative, which is funded through the Philadelphia Beverage Tax, enables Southwark to benefit from expanded partnership programming and support that comes from organizations, like Chubb, which Poliseno says employs 1,000 individuals in the Philadelphia area.

The bestowing of these bilingual picture books is especially crucial to Southwark, which is home to 17 spoken languages among its nearly 800 students. About 45 percent of the school’s population are deemed as English Learners, meaning English acts as a second language, by both the state and the district, according to principal Andrew Lukov, who has served at Southwark for the past six years.

Having one of the highest English Learner demographics in the district, Southwark has cultivated its own focus on literacy teachings, tailoring certain curriculums to each of its grade levels, which includes kindergarten through eighth grade.

Lukov says, while 45 percent of students are learning English as a second language, overall, more than 50 percent of the student body grew up in a bilingual household, meaning they’ve already innately developed the ability to speak two languages.

“As a school, our philosophy is a bilingual philosophy,” Lukov said. “We’re a bilingual school … we understand the importance of the languages that our students bring to school. So, for our students to bring a book home in Spanish, and if their parents speak Spanish, it’s a book that their parent can read to them, as many of our parents might not be able to speak English, and English is not spoken at home. So, it offers a wonderful opportunity.”

Essentially, the massive influx of English Learners is reflective of the shifting demographics migrating into neighborhoods east of Broad Street, such as East Passyunk Crossing, Lower Moyamensing, Whitman and Dickinson Narrows.

Among its many English Immersion programs, Southwark stresses the importance of learning English while retaining native languages, as it’s just as crucial for students to be reading in any language at home as it is for them to be reading in English at school.

“Not only do we teach kids how to read but we work hard to teach the love of reading and the pursuit of reading,” Lukov said. “So, (the Chubb donations) definitely fall in line with that. We want our students to not just read because they’re assigned to read, but read because they enjoy reading, picking up a good book, as opposed to picking up a good cell phone, tablet, iPad.”