Family welcome center opens at Taggart School

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Made possible by RevZilla, new space aims to provide resources to local immigrant students and their families.

Taggart’s student mentors browse through the newly-stocked items in Taggart’s Family Welcome Center. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

From mittens to mentorship, a slew of resources has been recently stocked in a first-floor room of John H. Taggart School, 400 W. Porter St.

The collection of aid — both tangible and not — composes the Whitman school’s new Family Welcome Center. Adorned with multi-colored bean bag seats and a rainbow run, the vibrant room, which houses shelves of new uniforms, book bags, shoes and more, is the product of a three-year partnership with Taggart and South Philadelphia-based e-commerce retailer RevZilla.

The space, which officially opened on Tuesday morning, will offer more than salutations but rather serve as an accommodating and accessible sanctuary tailored to the needs of Taggart’s community, easing the stress of immigrant populations, which comprise a significant chunk of the student body.

“We saw a need for a place where our parents and new students can come to Taggart and have resources available to them,” said principal Nelson Reyes. “…In today’s state, as far as what happens with our international students when it comes to resources for them, we felt there was a need.”

More than 36 percent of the school’s population is considered “English-language learners,” according to data from the School District of Philadelphia. Among the 500 students accounted for from pre-K Headstart to eighth grade, more than a dozen languages are spoken. About 50 percent of the student body is Asian, and 22 percent are Hispanic/Latino, according to district data.

Considering these statistics, when RevZilla was brainstorming its contribution to the school, which unfolded in 2016 through a connection with the Greater Philadelphia Corporate Volunteer Council and the district’s Office of Strategic Partnerships, the company felt it was crucial to provide a resource truly appropriate to Taggart’s essence.

Although ideas bounced around through the end of the 2017–2018 school year, details were finalized at the beginning of this school year.

“When I came to Taggart to talk about a partnership, I said, ‘I have $5,000 and a handful of volunteers that I could offer to help,’ and that’s not really much when you’re dealing with such a high-needs population of 500 students from pre-k to eighth grade,” said Martina Mansell, corporate giving coordinator of RevZilla. “But, it was enough to start helping. And over the there years, mutual honesty and respect that we have for each other has developed organically into this strong, meaningful and impactful partnership — the benefits of which ripple throughout the Taggart and RevZilla community.”

This partnership led to the outcome of many offerings, including a welcome kit with one week’s worth of school uniform clothing and one backpack full of grade-appropriate school supplies. The stocked items are labeled with signs that were translated by Nationalities Services Center into 13 languages most commonly spoken by Taggart students, including Spanish, Khmer, Mandarin, Nepali, Lao, Burmese, Karen, Pushto, Vietnamese, Swahili, Kinyarwanda, Indonesian and Arabic.

The welcome center also instituted a 26-member student mentorship program, as new students will receive one-on-one guidance from another grade partner who speaks their same native language.

During Tuesday’s press conference, eighth-grader Fernando Lescano shares the story of his journey to the United States and to the Taggart community. (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

Aside from the stockpile of products, folks will find computers donated by RevZilla for parents to use for necessities such as job searching and resettlement resources researching. Taggart’s bilingual counseling assistants will also be on site to help families.

“Being able to organize the resources that are scattered throughout the city,” said Alfredo Montes, a bilingual counseling assistant. “As soon as (parents and students) come in — to help them get their foot on the ground and hit the ground running — is amazing. It’s an amazing opportunity for not only us to help them, but for parents to actually get acclimated to the city very fast.”

RevZilla plans to restock items as needed. The company also encourages the community, including local businesses, to contribute items to the welcome center.

State Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler’s office, 2400 S. 9th St., will have a drop-box available for ongoing donations. Also, Fiedler’s team will stop by Taggart on a monthly basis to work with bilingual counselors in providing constituency services to parents.

Along with Fiedler, the grand opening was attended by Mayor Jim Kenney, who echoed the mission of the new welcome center.

“We’re happy that your families chose to come to Philadelphia, to come to America,” Kenney said. “And unlike what you continue to hear from Washington, we don’t believe in any of that. We believe that we’re stronger together when we accept each other’s cultures and learn from each other’s cultures as opposed to trying to separate ourselves from each other.”

Twitter: @gracemaiorano.

gmaiorano@newspapermediagroup.com