SEPTA stations get makeover for reading campaign

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Children interact with a newly-installed map for kids at SEPTA’s Tasker-Morris station.
Jack Tomczuk

Underground, at the Broad Street Line’s Tasker-Morris station in South Philadelphia, there’s now a mini-library.

Riders, by placing their hand over touchless buttons, can now get free short stories, printed on store receipt-like paper. Many of the tales were written by local students.

The kiosks, which are also at the BSL’s Erie station, are part of a campaign unveiled Wednesday to engage kids and families taking SEPTA — and, ultimately, to boost literacy levels among the city’s children.

Wall tiles at Tasker-Morris have been plastered with colorful messages, from simple wordplay to maps, riddles and would-you-rather questions.

“When we think about teaching young people to read, we often think about schools and then, after schools, we think about families and what’s happening in families’ homes,” said Jenny Bogoni, executive director of Read by 4th, an initiative based at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

“But Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods,” she added. “We’re a city of communities.”

Mecca and Asil Greer lead a pro-literacy chant Wednesday, April 6, during an event at SEPTA’s Tasker-Morris station.Jack Tomczuk

Read by 4th, which is partnering on the SEPTA campaign, dubbed “Come Aboard the Reading Promise,” is a coalition of more than 100 organizations that focuses on early childhood literacy.

The group’s goal is to have third grade students reading at grade level, so that they will be able to comprehend more difficult texts when they get to fourth grade and beyond. Sixty percent of Philadelphia’s third grade students do not meet the benchmark.

“Early literacy is essential to educational success,” Mayor Jim Kenney said at a news conference. “Children have to learn to read first so they can read to learn in later grades.”

During an introductory event Wednesday morning, excitable second and third graders from West Philadelphia’s Inquiry Charter School crowded Tasker-Morris’s concourse and interacted with the map and games on the wall.

Manoj Simha reads a short story distributed by a newly established kiosk at SEPTA’s Tasker-Morris station.Jack Tomczuk

In addition to Tasker-Morris and Erie stations, messages from the reading campaign will be featured on 36 SEPTA buses, two BSL cars, 70 bus shelters and hundreds of signs at stations, according to organizers.

At the short story dispensers, people can select between international, local and Spanish writers, and stories can be submitted online at www.readingpromise.org/your-story.

Several organizations, including Cosmic Writers, a creative writing education nonprofit founded by University of Pennsylvania students, provided pieces from children who participate in their programming.

“We think it’s incredible,” Manoj Simha, a member of Cosmic Writers’ leadership team, told Metro. “There’s nothing better than to give them a platform for their work.”

Funding for the “Come Aboard the Reading Promise” initiative was provided by the William Penn Foundation, and the campaign was designed by Mighty Engine, a local creative firm.

“This great campaign meets families where they are and, we hope, will add joy to their commute,” said Janet Haas, a Penn Foundation board member.

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