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June 13, 2024 10 mins
The “Right2ReadPhilly” Campaign offers support and resources so busy families can do fun things together that are proven to help kids become strong readers. One is promoting The Freedom Schools Alphabet Song – a phonics base song founded by Black teachers at the Freedom Schools movement of the sixty’s Civil Rights era. I speak to Dr. Heseung Song, President and CEO of Mighty Engine, Elaine Wells, Founder, Global Thinking Initiatives. She’s also a West Philly Reading Captain and Tiny Trekkers Leader. Also joining us is Sharif El-Mekki, Founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development.  
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Episode Transcript

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Right now, we are looking atways to encourage young kids to read,
to get them reading at grade levelby the end of third grade. And
the reason for that we know forsure that if kids read at grade level
by fourth grade, they will morelikely graduate from high school and go on
to higher education. And that's whythe Right to Read program is in effect

and the Freedom School's Alphabet Song,which we'll be telling you all about.
And we're being joined right now byfolks who are going to discuss this very
important issue. Doctor Hisong's Song,President and CEO of Mighty Engine, Elaine
Wells, founder Global Thinking Initiatives.She's a West Philly reading captain and Tiny
Trekkers leader. And we also havethe great Sharif al Mecki, founder and

chief executive officer for the Center forBlack Educator Development. First of all,
let's begin with you, doctor Song. I love saying that. Tell us
about this program, this program calledRight to Read PHI. How is it
different than all the things that we'veseen up until now. Well, thank
you, Lorraine for having us onyour show and for all you do all
the time supporting Philly families on ourchildren. So what we're trying to do

with the Right to Read Philly campaignis make it easier for hardworking, loving
families to grow strong readers. Likeyou said, we all want our children
to become confident readers, so theyeach feel like schools for them that they
can achieve academically because we know theycan write. To Read Philly was co
created by Philly families and designed withreading advocates, including Commune leaders like Sharif

and reading captains like Elaine. Whyto make it easier for Philly families to
do fun, free and easy thingswith their children. And we start with
the Freedom School's Alphabet Song. Soyou know what's great about the Alphabet song.
We all know that goes like ABCDEFG. It does a great job teaching
kids letter names. But the FreedomSchool's Alphabet Song teaches kids the sounds that

letters make. And it goes somethinglike Elene, do you want to help
me out with this? Oh?Okay, get a performance here, let's
hear it. Throw it. Girls. One song helps us learn their names.
This one sings the sounds they makeaba ka, the efaga, hai
ijaku, lamnopakorra sata zayahza. FreedomSchools show the way learning letters every day,

sounds that make us reading stars singinghow they really are. Oh wow,
that's pretty cool. Well, youknow, phonics is definitely the way
to go. That's how I learnedto read. Sharif al Mecki, you
are part of this program. Tellus about the freedom schools for those who
don't know their history educators. Yeah, no, absolutely, freedom schools has

long traditions. You know, there'sboth a formal and informal version. The
formal version started by Snick in Mississippias part of the Freedom Summer. As
Charlie Cobb and others were noticing we'regetting people registered to vote. They also
said, hey, we have towork with children as well, and we're
talking about the civil rights move inof the sixties. Yes, absolutely,

but there's also been an informal versionwhere freedom schools, where people you know,
on this continent have forever passed oninformation, passed on learning even when
it was illegal, and people risktheir limbs in life to teach other black
people and children how to read.And so that is part of the long
standing tradition of you know, educationfor liberation concept, mindset, theory,

and practice. And this was oneof the examples that I participated as a
three or four year old one ourcousin's portion on sixty third Street off of
the sixty third in Lancaster, DoctorSusette abdul Hakeem had a program of Freedom
School's program basically on her porch.This was a part of it, and
it was called Action Reading. Itwas a lot of movement, it was
a lot of phonics, and itwas the song that doctor Song and sister

Elaine just demonstrated. I like toget Elaine up on the microphone here.
First of all, you perform thatvery beautiful, so very impressed. Well,
so tell us what your connection iswith Freedom Schools. The song said.
I am a West Philadelphia reading captain. It is something that I went
into very wholeheartedly because for the lasttwenty five years I've been a quality education

activist in and around the city ofPhiladelphia. For whatever reason, our children's
education has not been as quality asit should be. Just being frank as
a parent of three sons and tengrandchildren, I found it necessary twenty five
years ago to start trying to supplementwhat the kids weren't learning in public schools.

And so the Freedom School's Alphabet songis a great example that movement teaching
kids fun and free ways to learnnot just how to recognize letters, but
to know how they sound, howyou're making the connections to be able to
read by a certain age. Imet doctor sung through the West Philadelphia Reading

Captains. West Philadelphia Reading Captains arethe best reading captains. I just want
to make that club. We doa lot, Yes, we do a
lot of community based work supporting parentsin giving them ways that don't overwhelm but
are very effective and impactful in teachingyoung kids early literacy and making you know,

a lasting impact on their success inschools. Because the educational equality is
social justice for sure. Absolutely.Kisan tell us how can people find out
more about the Right to Read Phillyprogram and all the different resources that are
being made available for free to parentswho'd like to get their kids reading a
grade level. But we've got awebsite home right to Read Philly dot work

that is chock full of so manyresources. When we say make it easier
for families, we truly mean that. So we have created so many different
kinds of ways, And if youalready know it, then then there are
even more ways to take it further. By setting up a beat at a
dance toet we're going to be holdinga double Dutch contest around it, and
we're going to just have lots offun with that all summer long, because

that's the key. Playful learning isat the heart of all of this.
And so write to Read Philly dotorg. Check it out. I think
you'll love what you find there,including videos of families by the way singing
the song. But we also wantyou to follow us on Instagram write to
Read Philly and then also throughout thesummer, there's just going to be more
and more events where we're going toshow up within West Philly reading captains the

house, but also others. Weknow they're about fast but also other reading
captains. Make sure that you knowthat it's the number two write to Read
Philly and not the preposition to you. And the reason why we're playing off
of the number two is because ittakes two for playful learning to happen.
It takes two. I love it. I love it, sir. We
found macke. I just want todeter very briefly, because you're very engaged

in getting more black educators. Weknow a long time ago this was the
norm. After the Brown versus Boardof Education, we lost tens of thousands
of black teachers in the country hasnever really recovered. And we know short
term, just during that year,a black student with a black teacher is
more likely to have better grades,better test scores, better attendance, better

home and school communication, less likelyto be suspended, expelled, or even
referred for discipline, more likely tohave access to rigorous courses like honors classes,
ap classes. Overall, that's abetter school year for that black child.
But what we've seen research longitudinally isalso black child is more likely to
graduate high school, more likely toenroll in college. And so all of
these outcomes speak to the relationship theculture, the introspection, and the depth

of knowledge that black teachers bring thebear when they're leading classrooms, schools and
districts. Freedom School's Alphabet song isan example of black pedagogy. So when
we lost black teachers, we justdidn't lose their bodies and their influence.
We lost so much of their strategies. So what I love about the Retreat
Philly campaign is it's having all ofus rediscover a strateg you that wasn't place

long ago, fifty years ago.We don't have to reinvent the week we
don't have to take the week isalready there and it works. Elaine,
I want to give you the lastword. Obviously, the West Philly you
know, Reading Captains rock. Butif people want more information about the work
that you're doing, and also ifthey want to become a Reading Captain,
how would they do that. TheReading Captains have weekly I believe Reading Captain

training and you can go to Philadelphiareadingcaptainsdot org to sign up for that training.
They do have an online version.The other thing I want to mention
is through this right to Read campaignwe're also having we're providing a giveaway.
We're asking Philly families to show ustheir unique spin on the Freedom School's Alphabet
Song for a chance to win onethousand dollars. I make sure that my

Tiny so my youth trailer nature programcalled Tiny Trekkers. It's a youth trailer
nature program for kids ages two throughnine and their families, which is important
families are included. We are divingdeeply into the Freedom School's Alphabet song.
And on this next Saturday, Junefifteenth, we will be at Whitby Park.
We're going to do a trail hikewith the kids and their families and

we will be doing this hike tothe Freedom School's Alphabet song, So it's
open to the public. Come outand join us, have some fun,
learn the song. We're going tobe having great resources out there. And
yeah, I'm a West Philly readingcaptain. Today i leave here and you
know, we're gonna make sure thatour kids are equipped to be successful in
school. Yes, so they learningand it will be fun and schiry fell

Mecki. If people want more informationabout the Black Educators Development Program, where
do they find out more? Theycan find us at www dot Thecenter blacked
dot org and on all the socialmedia platforms at Center Black ed fantastic.
We need more black educators. Ihave to give a shout out wherever you
are. Mister Burns. He wasmy eighth grade algebra teacher. He was

the only black teacher in the schoolthat I went to that year. And
he was so smart that he wasable to correct a textbook and said,
hey, you were wrong and theychanged it. Mister Burns was amazing and
we thank you for everything that youdid for me in high school. He
actually passed me in algebra and thatwas a feat in itself. Listen.

I want to thank you all somuch. Sharif Almecki, founder and Chief
executive officer for the Center for BlackEducator Development. Elaine Wells, Founder Global
Thinking Initiative. She's a West Phillyreading captain and Tiny Trekker's leader and doctor.
Heasang's song president and CEO of MightyEngine, which is the organization that's
getting the word out about Write toRead Philly. That's right, the number

two read Philly dot org. Thankyou all for joining us today.
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