New Campaign Makes Early Literacy a Family Affair


PHILADELPHIA, June 10, 2024
—A new campaign, Right2ReadPhilly, seeks to address the city’s early literacy crisis using a novel approach: by making it easier for busy, loving families to grow strong readers, piloting two fun, eye-opening, evidenced-based things parents can do with their kids this summer.

“Right2ReadPhilly is designed on the premise that Philly families are powerful and highly-motivated agents of change,” said Diane Mills, a regional co-facilitator of Philadelphia Reading Captains and a campaign advisor. “We just have to grab their attention from life distractions in respectful ways with compelling ideas.”

Right2ReadPhilly has been co-created with Philly families, guided by an advisory council of reading advocates and facilitated by Philadelphia-based creative agency Mighty Engine with lead support provided by the William Penn Foundation. 

The campaign highlights undertapped, research-supported ways families can help their children develop into strong readers: the Freedom Schools Alphabet Song and Simple Signs (First Words in American Sign Language). 

Sharif El-Mekki, founder/CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development and a campaign partner, said the Freedom Schools Alphabet Song was a strategy first brought to West Philadelphia children in the 1960s by Black families who wanted to ensure their young children had strong reading skills.

“I remember as a child, in addition to the basic alphabet song that teaches letter names, I learned the Freedom Schools Alphabet Song that teaches letter sounds,” El-Mekki said. “It’s exciting to bring back a pedagogical tool created by Black teachers of the Freedom Schools movement more than 50 years ago for the benefit of all families.” 

Sara Novic—a best-selling novelist, deaf rights activist and campaign consultant—said the Right2ReadPhilly campaign promotion of Simple Signs (First Words in American Sign Language) is reinforced by the American Academy of Pediatrics’s approval of sign language for all infants and toddlers and studies like the one published in the Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis that shows sign language does not delay speech in hearing children; in fact, bilingualism could encourage it with the added benefit of curtailing the “terrible twos.”

“The Right2ReadPhilly campaign offers Simple Signs for free to boost early language and learning for all children,” Novic said. “But we especially want to reach the-more-than 70% of deaf and hard-of-hearing children who are not taught ASL.” 

Dr. Heseung Song, developmental psychologist and CEO of Mighty Engine, a Philadelphia-based creative agency, called Right2ReadPhilly ambitious.

She said the campaign seeks to prove Philly families can be reached and engaged—without an advertising budget—through social media, earned media and intensive community outreach, leveraging a wide network of Philly families and reading advocates.

“Right2ReadPhilly is training and collaborating with trusted messengers, from teen Play Captains and Reading Captains to librarians, reading tutors, social workers, parent and grandparent groups, youth-program providers and home-visiting nurses, with the hopes that Simple Signs and the Freedom Schools Alphabet Song will become favorite resources as they assist families with young children,” Dr. Song said. 

The campaign website—Right2ReadPhilly.org—is structured for easy family use. It features instructional videos with kid-friendly characters as well as videos made with Philly families. There are helpful tips, fun ideas and much more encouraging families to try Simple Signs and the Freedom Schools Alphabet Song.

All summer long, the campaign will promote giveaways, contests and challenges through social media and community events. After the summer pilot campaign, the Right2ReadPhilly team will evaluate its impact to plan for follow-on efforts.

To learn more, visit right2readphilly.org and follow the campaign on Instagram @righttoreadphilly. 

A Philly-based creative agency whose mission is to advance racial justice and educational equity, Mighty Engine has served as a lead consultant on major early literacy initiatives, including Read by 4th, Reading Promise, Come Aboard the Reading Promise, Reading Captains and Reading Champs among others. 

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