School Talk: Southwark to launch Spanish-English immersion program in the fall

Editor’s Note: School Talk is an occasional feature that will look at education and parenting issues in South Philly. If you have concerns, ideas, suggested topics or other thoughts about the state of schools and ways to keep improving them, email us at

Weighing in this time are Lauren Ferri and Kate Clark, members of the East Passyunk Crossing Civic Association’s education committee. To get involved with the committee or at Southwark, email


Under the leadership of its new principal, Andrew Lukov, Southwark Elementary School is in the midst of revitalization. Evidence of this, is the new Spanish/English dual language program, Dragón TWI, that was approved by the School District of Philadelphia last month.

The idea for Dragón TWI was developed through articulation meetings with current and potential Southwark parents, parents of English Language Learners (ELLs), and Southwark community partner Puentas de Salud.

“Last summer, when I met with members of our native-English speaking communities, having a neighborhood school where children could receive the opportunity to become bilingual and biliterate was at the top of everyone’s list,” Lukov said. “For our Spanish-speaking community, this affords them the guarantee that an important aspect of their culture, language, will be preserved and maintained.”

Once the need for Dragón TWI was established, Principal Lukov reached out to Allison Still, the director of the district’s Office of Multilingual Curriculum and Programs who connected him to Dr. Nelson Flores of the University of Pennsylvania. With Dr. Flores and the University of Pennsylvania as a partner, a 10-page proposal was drafted and a short video was created to present to the Superintendent’s Office for approval.

Dr. Flores describes Two-Way Immersion as “a dual language program in which students from households where English is spoken and students from households where a partner language is spoken are integrated for instruction so that both groups serve in the role of language model and language learner.”  In researching the multiple models of Two-Way Immersion, the team settled on the 90/10 model where kindergarten students begin with 90 percent of their instruction in Spanish and 10 percent of their instruction in English.

“Of course, Dr. Flores added, “the amount of English is increased until there is a 50/50 equal ratio of Spanish and English in the fourth grade.”  He cites research that shows this model yields the highest levels of bilingualism and biliteracy.

Dragón TWI will open its doors in September with its inaugural kindergarten class and grow a grade in each following school year. Lukov said his goal is to “register 15 native English-speaking kindergarten students and 15 native Spanish-speaking kindergarten students, and 30 families committed to Southwark and this exciting program.”

Lukov will be hosting two information sessions next week at Southwark. The first session, for English-speaking parents, will be held on Wednesday, May 14 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. The second session, for Spanish speaking parents, will take place on Thursday, May 15 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m.

For more information, contact Lukov at or 267-979-2355. The deadline to register is May 30. Preference will be given to families who live inside Southwark’s catchment.