Haverhill Promise, the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, recently received $1,000 from Phi Iota Alpha Fraternity of Greater Boston to use toward the purchase of bilingual children’s books for Latino families.
For nearly 17% of Haverhill Public Schools students, English is not the primary language spoken at home. Phi Iota Alpha’s donation provide Haverhill families with around 150 quality bilingual books which include lines of text in both English and Spanish on the same page, according to a statement. Phi Iota Alpha member Christian Ponce explains the reason behind the donation.
“As a group of Latino Men, we inherently understand the value that comes from being bilingual but more importantly we understand that in order to prepare the next generation to succeed we need to engage them as early as possible.”
According to Haverhill Promise, parents who do not speak any or much English may not feel comfortable reading English only books with their children. Yet reading and speaking to babies and young children in any language is critical for building early literacy skills and preparing a child’s brain for learning. Ponce noted, “Making it possible for parents to read to their children in a language that they’re comfortable and confident in, helps them instill in their children a passion for learning as early as possible. It is how we make sure that this next generation doesn’t suffer from the many inequities that we may have.”
In addition to encouraging parents to read in their home language, the group said, bilingual books play an important role in helping Latino children feel included. Bilingual books provide children with a story in their home language and, while the majority of popular children’s books overlook diversity, bilingual books often have characters and storylines that reflect the young reader’s culture and race, helping them relate to characters and connect with the book.
“As Phi Iota Alpha’s goal is to empower the Latinx community we feel honored to help the next generation of Latinx in their educational progress,” said Bryant Laurino, Boston University senior and member of Phi Iota Alpha. “The ability to understand multiple languages has become a necessity in our ever-globalizing world. We are honored to help out those of the Latinx and other minority communities learn history and language through literature that encapsulates the beauty of Latin America and that bridges the gap between the Americas.”
State Rep. Andy Vargas helped form the partnership, as an alumni of Phi Iota Alpha. Vargas said “There is something special that happens when parents read to their kids. As we strengthen our city-wide literacy campaign, this support will help encourage parents of all backgrounds to do so.”
Haverhill Promise plans to order a variety of titles in the coming weeks, with a goal to distribute them to families by the end of January. The group plans to reach out to Haverhill’s Latino Coalition and those who work with English Language Learners at Haverhill Public Schools to help identify the families that will benefit most from the bilingual books.