Pioneering Early Literacy Campaign Arrives for SEPTA Riders

Philadelphia unveils interactive early literacy campaign for families on public transit

PHILADELPHIA (April 6, 2022) – Early literacy advocates in Philadelphia today unveiled the nation’s largest effort to transform public transit commutes into fun learning experiences for children, helping families use everyday moments to grow strong readers. Partners behind the project include Read by 4th, the city’s early literacy collaborative, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and SEPTA, the nation’s sixth largest transit agency—with funding from the William Penn Foundation.  

The Come Aboard the Reading Promise campaign features large, vibrant artwork and interactive cues designed to spark the types of adult-child conversations that research has shown support early language and literacy development. The campaign takes over two subway stations on SEPTA’s Broad Street Line (Tasker-Morris in South Philadelphia and Erie in North Philadelphia) and spans 70 bus shelters, three dozen buses, two subway cars and hundreds of subway and rail signs across the city. 

The campaign is designed for family enjoyment through repeated visits at no additional cost, unlocking the potential of high-traffic public spaces for learning. In addition to the engaging signage, a kiosk at each of the two subway stations dispenses short stories on-demand at no charge that families can read together during their travels. The campaign welcomes story submissions from children and families throughout the school year.   

“We love that this campaign has invited families, and those of us fighting for child literacy, to shape it every step of the way,” said Carolotta Q. Stafford, South Philly Reading Captain and Strengthening Families Coordinator for Bethanna. “It reflects what we know works in encouraging the family joy that’s the magic sauce to early reading.”

The campaign stars 24 characters inspired by children from different Philadelphia neighborhoods, who encourage families to “talk it up, take turns, and tune in” to one another with riddles, tongue twisters, alphabet hunts, neighborhood maps, career explorations, poetry, songs and so much more. 

“This campaign takes the five Reading Promises—informed by research and developed with and for Philly families—literally on the road,” said Jenny Bogoni, executive director of the Read by 4th Campaign at the Free Library of Philadelphia. One of the nation’s leading efforts focused on grade-level reading, Read by 4th is a citywide coalition of families, community, and systems leaders protecting every child’s right to read.  “Come Aboard the Reading Promise complements and reinforces Philadelphia’s multi-layered approach to improving literacy outcomes for our children.”

The Come Aboard the Reading Promise campaign is designed to appeal to learners of different ages based on playful learning principles. Younger children can have fun with their caregivers as they sound out words and make animal noises while older children can ask their parents “would you rather” questions.

Signage at children’s eye level invites children to come aboard the reading promise adventure and encourage families to share their adventure with others through social media and QR prompts. 

“SEPTA is proud to be a partner on the Come Aboard the Reading Promise initiative,” said SEPTA General Manager and CEO Leslie S. Richards. “Tens of thousands of students use SEPTA everyday, and we look forward to seeing this powerful educational endeavor help spark their creativity and further their achievements.”

The campaign will leverage the citywide network of over 500 Reading Captains volunteering to help families grow strong readers one conversation at a time. They will serve as the main distributors of campaign “Busy Bus Bags” full of reading materials, including a word journal specially designed for this adventure, to families while waiting at shelters and riding on buses.

“We are excited to see SEPTA join the growing list of institutions in Philadelphia that recognize an opportunity to engage families in children’s learning and development,” said Janet Haas, M.D., board member at the William Penn Foundation. “Come Aboard the Reading Promise meets families where they are, adds joy to their commute, and creates playful learning opportunities for children.”

Shepherded by the award-winning Philadelphia creative agency Mighty Engine, Come Aboard the Reading Promise builds on the latest education principles and research on child literacy.

“We’re out to show that even small changes in what we do as loving grown-ups can help our children make the biggest leaps in literacy,” said Heseung Song, Mighty Engine’s president/CEO, a Harvard-trained researcher and developmental psychologist. “So, families, let’s talk it up, take turns, tune in while riding on SEPTA.”

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