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Author Archives: Sesame Workshop

November 19, 2014

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“When Raya Speaks, the Children of the World Listen.”

By Sesame Workshop


Those words were spoken by Congressman Aaron Schock (IL-R). He’s talking about Raya, a six-year-old Muppet who recently joined the Sesame Street family.

2.6 billion people worldwide do not have access to safe toilets, and in some regions, more people have access to cell phones than to toilets. And even as we work to bring attention to that problem, we also need to work toward changing the attitudes, habits, and practices around water, sanitation, and hygiene. Raya is one of many voices leading the charge through Sesame Workshop’s WASH UP! initiative.

On Saturday, September 27, Raya attended the Global Citizen Festival, an event designed to bring global leaders, socially conscious celebrities and musicians, and thousands of concerned citizens together in an effort to end extreme poverty by 2030. Raya kicked the day off with Sesame Workshop’s Vice President, International, Stephen Sobhani, at MSNBC on Melissa Harris Perry. The segment included Congressman Aaron Schock, wherein on camera, he stated, “When Raya speaks, the children of the world listen.”

She then moved on to the Global Citizen Festival in Central Park where she rocked out with 60,000 of her closest friends in New York to No Doubt and Jay Z. (And she grabbed a selfie along the way!)

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Raya’s selfie!

At the concert, Raya and Elmo had a special meet and greet with Prime Minster of India, Narendra Modi and World Bank President, Dr. Jim Kim. Dr. Kim was eager to tell Elmo and Raya about how he and Prime Minster Modi would be cleaning the Ganges for children.

During the festival, a public service announcement highlighting proper latrine use was broadcast to the live audience and aired on MSNBC’s live festival coverage.

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Raya and Questlove!

Raya and Elmo had a special meet and greet with Prime Minster of India, Narendra Modi and World Bank President, Dr. Jim Kim.

Raya and Elmo had a special meet and greet with Prime Minster of India, Narendra Modi and World Bank President, Dr. Jim Kim.

For more information on the Open Defecation Campaign, visit: http://opendefecation.org/news/resources/.

Click here to find out how you can get involved!

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October 09, 2014

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I Found My Way to Sesame Street: Cheryl Baxter, Sesame Street Live

By Sesame Workshop


Cheryls head shot

Cheryl Baxter (pictured above) is a director and choreographer with Sesame Street Live. Here’s her look back at how she found her way to Sesame Street.

I have directed and choreographed shows for Sesame Street Live since 1996. Some years I may work on two or three shows during a season. “Let’s Dance!” is a different format than other shows we have done in the past. There will be more audience participation, and, for some of the numbers the characters will be in the audience teaching various dances!

I really enjoy the rehearsal process. The creative team has a vision first on paper, then the music and choreography is set, and then it’s put on the performers. We start creating the shows months before rehearsals start in August – it’s exciting when we see it come to life.

The new challenges the show poses is to build in enough time musically for the characters to come on and off of the audience floor. At times there are eight characters going from the stage and covering the floor to interact with as many audience members as possible; building extra time to get them back on stage to do their next number is important.

My annual visit to La Crosse has always been a special time for me personally. I now live in Los Angeles, but I grew up in a small town in Wisconsin about an hour away from La Crosse, so getting the opportunity to open a show near my hometown is fantastic. My mom is a dance teacher in Wisconsin so she brings her dance students to the shows in La Crosse every year!

 

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October 08, 2014

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Doctors, and Academic Medical Journal and… Sesame Street?

By Sesame Workshop


AnnalsThe authors of an article being published in Annals of Internal Medicine (available here) say that physicians are getting a wake-up call about the effects of mass incarceration from an unexpected place: Sesame Street. Currently, more than two million people are incarcerated in the United States – more than any other country in the world. The authors of “Sesame Street Goes to Jail: Physicians Should Follow” argue that while many people need to be in prison for the safety of society, a majority are incarcerated due to behaviors attributable to treatable diseases such as mental illness and addiction. The authors suggest policy changes that would allow doctors to steer eligible defendants into treatment programs rather than correctional facilities, when appropriate. When incarceration is necessary, doctors and correctional medicine should coordinate transfer of patient care upon release so that any gains made during incarceration are not lost. They say that physicians also should be aware of social issues such as education, housing, race, and poverty because they can adversely affect health. These same issues also increase the risk of incarceration.

The authors were inspired to call physicians to action by Sesame Street’s Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration initiative. A Muppet named Alex provides support and a voice for young kids, while the online toolkit provides caregivers with a range of materials to help guide children through the challenges associated with the incarceration of a loved one. This is important, say the authors, because incarceration plays a role in health and health disparities for not only the person incarcerated, but also for their families.

Two of the authors, Scott Allen MD and Jody Rich MD, MPH, pictured above, shared their thoughts with us, below.

Scott:  What common ground would a couple of doctors writing for an academic medical journal have with Sesame Street?  Well, thanks to the groundbreaking work on the impact of incarceration on families and communities done by Lynn Chwatsky and her team at Sesame Workshop, we learned that there’s plenty of common ground.

Dr. Jody Rich and I like to say that we met in prison –  which is true – we were both physicians treating patient in the Rhode Island system in the late 1990’s.  In prison, the process of seeing patients is often interrupted by the prison routines including an important process called “the count.”  The count is the process of literally the counting of the inmates by officers that occurs at multiple times across the day.  Anyone working in prison knows when they hear the announcement “Time for the count!” work comes to a stand still.  And just as predictably, whenever we’d hear that announcement, Dr. Rich would assume the voice of Sesame Street’s Count von Count.  “I count a-one… I count a-two… I count a-three…”

Over the years and through our work with inmate patients and their communities, we grew increasingly concerned about the impact of the widespread use of incarceration in the United States.  We co-founded the Center for Prisoner Health and Human Rights at the Miriam Hospital, Brown University in an effort to raise awareness of the impact of incarceration on health.  And then one day, our colleague Dora Dumont brought the character of Alex the muppet with an incarcerated father to our attention.  Inspired by Sesame Street’s attention, we cited the character of Alex in a paper written for an academic journal, Annals of Internal Medicine arguing for increased attention by physicians to the impact of incarceration on patients and their communities.  The good people at Annals loved the paper, and after a few calls to the folks at Sesame Street, we agreed there was great synergy in our efforts. We agreed to collaborate on a short video news release.

Jody and I traveled to New York to Sesame Street, and despite our academic titles and roles as physicians, we were as excited as school kids to meet Alex, our new muppet friend, along with Lynn and the staff behind this terrific outreach effort.

And as a bonus, once we wrapped up the shoot with Alex, out of nowhere appeared the one and only Count to participate in another unrelated shoot.

I looked over at Jody.  I knew what was coming.

“It’s time for the Count! I count a-one… I count a-two… I count a-three…”

The Count overheard our conversation.  “Ahh!  You like to count, too!  Let’s count TOGETHER!”

Jody: Dora Dumont came up with the idea and Scott and I immediately jumped on. This work by the Sesame Street team is outstanding and synergistic to our efforts. What is going on in the United States right now with incarceration rates higher than ever before is downright un-American. It is unjust, unfair, wrong and detrimental to the very fabric of our society. Everybody loves Sesame Street and what better way to get our message across.

When the Annals of Internal Medicine agreed to publish our article and mentioned that there could be an accompanying video, we began chanting “We’re going to Sesame Street!”

When we finally went it impressed our friends and families more than anything we’ve done before: instant credibility from our children and their friends.

Scott is accurate in his description of our excitement upon arriving at Sesame Street. We were as excited as school kids getting ice cream.

We were so honored to meet Alex, but also the Count.  Over the years, I’ve imitated the Count so many times when explaining the prison “count” to students and visitors.  And never in my wildest dreams did I think we would actually get to meet THE Count!

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October 07, 2014

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I Found My Way to Sesame Street: Lisa Marie Fulton, Sesame Street Live

By Sesame Workshop


vee1Lisa Marie Fulton (pictured in the green hat above) is a professional Sesame Street character performer. She is going into her sixth season with Sesame Street Live and her seventh with VEE Corporation. Here’s her look back at how she found her way to Sesame Street.

My journey started in 1985, I was 4 years old and my mom and grandma took my brother and me to see Sesame Street Live in Detroit. I was mesmerized — hooked. I was going to be on that stage when I grew up! We continued to see the show year after year. As I grew older, my ambitions changed as fast as my shoe size. When I grew up I wanted to be a teacher, a cartoonist, or a stay-at-home mom. But in my heart I always knew I wanted to be on stage.

Throughout my life, I’ve worked to get there. When I was young I started taking dance classes at Randazzo Dance Studio. At Ypsilanti High School I joined a club that involved performance. I went to college and graduated in 2003 with a degree in theatre from Bowling Green State University. My first audition out of college? It was for Sesame Street Live in Columbus, OH.

I didn’t get it.

Of course, I was disappointed. But I was a performer and rejection is inevitable. Sometimes you’re just not the right fit.

Shortly thereafter, I moved to Minneapolis. While there I acted, taught, designed costumes, danced and even became the mascot for the Saint Paul Saints professional baseball team. I was pretty content with my life until one day I saw a posting for Sesame Street Live auditions at Target Center. It had been more than three years since my first audition, but I had more professional experience and even costume character experience so I decided to go. Six months after that audition I got the call to go on tour with VEE Corporation.

Three years after that I stepped on stage as Baby Bear. I had finally found my way to Sesame Street.

This is where I live. Of course traveling the country I miss my friends and family back home (luckily, I’ve gotten to perform for them in my travels) but tour is my home away from home and the people I tour with are like family. I’ve been like an older sister, younger sister, mother and even the cool aunt to some of my tour mates. I still have close relationships with people I’ve toured with, especially those I shared hotel rooms with for ten months at a time. For example, I know I can call or text fellow performer Timmy Hayes, former management team members Dave and Mary Hart, and countless others at anytime for a laugh or tough love.

Touring is a lifestyle full of hard work and adventures. It requires a dedication to your craft unlike any other. Touring also has it perks like traveling to new places. On my days off I like to visit major and minor league ballparks (Go Tigers!) and try the different foods each state has to offer. (New Orleans has my vote for the best!) I also love seeing what challenges each year brings. This year I decided to go back to school. I was accepted to Purdue’s Master in Communication program. So while I continue to travel the country performing I will be taking online classes and fulfill another dream of mine by obtaining my master’s degree. I know it won’t be easy, however, like Grover says (which I also quoted in my essay to get into grad school, thank you Grover!):

 I, Grover, am big and tall
and very smart and kind of cute and wonderful
I think that there is nothing I cannot do

I wholeheartedly believe that. I can do anything. Hey, I found my way to Sesame Street, didn’t I?

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September 08, 2014

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Sesame Workshop Appoints Jeffrey Dunn as President and CEO

By Sesame Workshop


Vincent A. Mai, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Sesame Workshop, announced today the appointment of Jeffrey D. Dunn as President and Chief Executive Officer of Sesame Workshop, effective September 29, 2014. Mr. Dunn, formerly the President and CEO of HiT Entertainment, will succeed Mel Ming who announced his retirement earlier this year. Mr. Dunn will lead the nonprofit educational organization in its mission to use the educational power of media to help all children reach their highest potential.

Mr. Dunn currently serves as a 2014 Advanced Leadership Initiative Fellow at Harvard University with a focus on media and education. Previously, he served as President and CEO of HiT Entertainment from 2008 until 2012. HiT was one of the world’s leading independent children’s entertainment producers airing its content in more than 160 countries around the world, primarily on public broadcasters. HiT’s signature property was Thomas & Friends, which was the world’s leading boys’ preschool brand. Before joining HiT, Dunn served as Group Chief Operating Officer of the Nickelodeon Networks group and the President of Nickelodeon Film and Enterprises, where, among other things, he built Nickelodeon’s international networks business and oversaw the growth of Blue’s Clues, SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora the Explorer into three of the world’s largest licensed property brands.

“Jeff Dunn has an outstanding track record in the world of children’s media,” said Vincent Mai. “At HiT Entertainment, Jeff led the company’s resurgence and successful turn-around before it was sold to Mattel in 2012. And under his leadership, Nickelodeon became one of the industry’s most global networks, largest licensing businesses, as well as the world’s largest digital media business for kids. His current experience at Harvard is a testament to his commitment to the educational power of media and we look forward to the Workshop thriving under his creative, inspired leadership.”

Jeff Dunn said, “Sesame Workshop really invented the business of kids television as we know it today and all of us in the kids media industry recognize the debt we owe the Workshop for leading the way. I am truly humbled by this opportunity to join the Workshop and help to steer its future and educational mission.”

Jeff Dunn recently served on the board of American Greetings and Sprout, the award-winning preschool children’s TV network. He graduated with honors from Harvard College, and earned his MBA from the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration.

Sesame Workshop is the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street which reaches 156 million children across more than 150 countries. The Workshop’s mission is to use the educational power of media to help all children reach their highest potential. Delivered through a variety of platforms, including television programs, digital experiences, books and community engagement, its research-based programs are tailored to the needs of the communities and countries they serve, helping children everywhere grow smarter, stronger and kinder.

Photo by Gil Vaknin

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July 15, 2014

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Kindergartners’ Skills at School Entry Report and Sesame Street Framework for School Readiness

By Sesame Workshop


Preparing children for school has always been a part of what we do at Sesame Workshop. To continue to do this and understand the needs of today’s children, our research team commissioned an analysis of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study to ascertain the status of preschoolers school readiness and their abilities as they enter kindergarten. The findings are being released today in the Kindergartners’ Skills at School Entry report. The report shows wide differences in school readiness persist with 44% of children entering school with one or more risk factors that impact their success in school. The analysis examined four risk factors that have been associated with children’s development and school achievement: single parent households, mothers with less than a high school education, households with incomes below the federal poverty line and non-English speaking households. High-risk children (those with all four risk factors) were found to be nearly a year behind their peers with no risk factors in their reading and math abilities.

In light of these findings, we are sharing our Sesame Street Educational Framework for School Readiness. The Framework is a guide that outlines the developmental progressions of preschoolers within the 20 core school readiness skills. Up until now, it has been an internal guide used to complement the whole child curriculum that is the basis of all Sesame Street content that helps children grow smarter, stronger and kinder.  We are releasing this document in the hopes that fellow content developers will use it to better understand the developmental needs of preschoolers and create educational content that will help close the school readiness gap.

Find the Kindergartners’ Skills at School Entry report here and check out the Sesame Street Educational Framework for School Readiness.

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June 10, 2014

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With Food, Hope, and Cookie Monster

By Sesame Workshop


This post is by Enid A. Borden, Founder, President and CEO of the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger.

By the time we arrived to set up for our special event on May 17, families were already lined up and waiting in the parking lot. My foundation, the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH), was hosting a healthy eating event for the community of McDowell County, WV, and the families were waiting for the moment when they would finally see the star they knew about but never dreamed they would actually meet – Cookie Monster from Sesame Street.

Our Healthy Food, Healthy Fun, Healthy Future event, which marked the conclusion of a year-long, intergenerational nutrition education project underwritten by a grant from the Walmart Foundation, encouraged all the people of McDowell County to celebrate and practice the healthy lifestyle habits we had been teaching to many of them. After enjoying a free, nutritious lunch, families visited our special farmers market where they could learn how they could easily incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their meals. Each family left the market with a complimentary bag of produce consisting of fresh kale, tomatoes, corn on the cob, apples, zucchini and dried pinto beans.

As the adults visited the market, a local radio station that was on site for the event kept children dancing, while they waited in line for their turn to jump in the bounce house and race each other around an inflatable racetrack on oversized tricycles.  There were many things to see and do, but nothing so engaged and delighted old and young alike as meeting Cookie Monster. When the children saw Cookie, they ran to him, hugged him tightly and stayed by his side.  It was clear that they craved affection, and Cookie was a safe one to approach first. Before long, one little girl ran over to me and took a flying leap into my arms too. These children deserve more than they get most days. That Saturday was different.

Make no mistake about it. Most of the parents and grandparents are doing their best to provide for the children, but there isn’t much in the way of opportunities and resources to make that possible in this isolated County. McDowell County, WV, is the poorest in West Virginia and one of the poorest counties in the nation. In McDowell County, nearly three out of five children live in a home with no biological parent present. This leaves many grandparents with the daunting task of raising their grandchildren with limited resources and without adequate access to affordable, nutritious food. NFESH-commissioned research shows that grandparents living in a home with a grandchild are two times more likely to face the threat of hunger than their peers who do not reside in a home with a grandchild. That, combined with widespread poverty, unemployment, a prevalence of illegal drugs and prescription drug abuse, the shortest life expectancies in the nation, and geographic isolation, leave the wonderful people of McDowell with little time and room for fun in their lives.

Our day of celebration of healthy eating brought them that, but it also delivered much more. It gave them hope and showed them how simple it could be to begin moving, one step and bite at a time, to a healthier life. Children and adults were introduced to healthy foods they had never eaten before and thanks to our friends at Sesame Workshop the children were able to spend memorable time with Cookie Monster, not just a favorite character but a hero and a friend. His long journey to meet them symbolized what the whole event was designed to show them —   that people in and outside of the community cared about them, their happiness and their future.

At NFESH we are dedicated to ending senior hunger, and we know that the best way to end senior hunger is to prevent it in the first place. By educating children about balanced meals and how to read nutrition labels and unit pricing, we are giving them the tools and knowledge they need to make healthy and budget-friendly purchasing decisions when they get older. Sesame Street’s multimedia outreach initiative Food for Thought: Eating Well on a Budget was given to every family at the event. Parents and children were extremely grateful to receive this kit designed to help support families who have children between the ages of two and eight, cope with uncertain or limited access to affordable and nutritious food. The grandparents were thankful for the educational materials, and the children were excited to have a book that showed Cookie Monster’s friends. The families also received Sesame Street’s Healthy Teeth, Healthy Me kit.

With every trip to McDowell, we leave a little piece of our hearts behind. We have seen the poverty and despair, but we have also seen the impact our projects have on the people, and we are committed to helping the people of the County. This would not be possible without the incredible support we’ve received from our partners. Sesame Workshop has provided the families of McDowell County with more than just tools to help the children learn to lead healthier lives; the families have been given a memory they will carry with them for years. And that’s a reason to smile.

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May 29, 2014

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Sesame Workshop’s 12th Annual Gala Honoring Joan Ganz Cooney

By Sesame Workshop


Last night, Sesame Workshop honored Joan Ganz Cooney, co-creator of Sesame Street and co-founder of Children’s Television Workshop (now Sesame Workshop), for her lifelong efforts to improve the lives of children around the world at its 12th annual benefit gala. Sesame Street’s Elmo, Grover, Cookie Monster, Abby and Big Bird hosted the event at Cipriani 42nd Street which included special appearances by Diane Sawyer and Cheryl Henson, and video tributes from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and First Lady Michelle Obama.  The evening concluded with a musical performance by Grammy Award-winning artist Michael Bublé, performing “You Make Me Feel So Young,” “Young at Heart,” and the Sesame Street classic “Sing” with the Muppets.

We are honored to recognize Mrs. Cooney for her contribution as the co-creator of Sesame Street, the award-winning children’s educational TV show. With the belief that television could help children learn, Mrs. Cooney and her colleagues launched a program that revolutionized television, dramatically impacted pre-school education and changed millions of lives for the better. Four decades later, her legacy continues. Today, Sesame Workshop has become the single largest informal educator of young children around the world.  Using the power of media, Sesame Street engages children in 150 countries by teaching literacy and numeracy, as well as crucial lessons about health, emotional well-being and respect and understanding.

Mrs. Cooney began her career as a journalist in her hometown of Phoenix before moving to New York City to become a public affairs producer for WNDT (now WNET). While there, she led a study for the Carnegie Corporation titled, “The Potential Uses of Television in Preschool Education.” That groundbreaking research paved the way for the debut of Sesame Street in 1969.

Forty-five years later, Mrs. Cooney’s contribution to children’s education continues. She is currently Chair of the Executive Committee of Sesame Workshop’s Board of Trustees and in 2007, she established the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, an innovative nonprofit research organization dedicated to advancing children’s literacy skills through digital media. In addition, the Public Preparatory Network recently announced that they are launching the Joan Ganz Cooney Early Learning Program, a tuition-free, all-day pre-K program for four-year olds in the South Bronx.

Joan has been the heart and soul of Sesame Workshop for the past 45 years. Thanks to her vision, Sesame Street has helped millions of children around the globe grow up smarter, stronger and kinder.

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January 30, 2014

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Join us LIVE for Elmo’s Birthday Monday Evening!

By Sesame Workshop


Guess who is celebrating a birthday on Monday, February 3rd? That’s right, Elmo! And he wants to celebrate it with you! At 7 PM ET,  Elmo will be appearing LIVE via Spreecast! And you’re invited!

 

Where: Via this Link

When: 7:00 PM Eastern Time on Monday, February 3rd  for 30 to 45 minutes.

Who: You, and bring your kids, too!

We’ll see you there!

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January 28, 2014

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Celebrating the Lunar New Year

By Sesame Workshop


China is celebrating the Lunar New Year at the end of January, and Sesame Workshop is excited to celebrate too! That’s why we teamed up with China’s CCTV Children’s Channel to help produce 10 short segments called “Let’s Celebrate New Year!” to encourage children learn more about special traditions and customs, and hear legendary stories.

Each segment stars the Muppets from Sesame Street’s Big Bird Looks at the World, the Chinese version of Sesame Street, and a host from one of the many popular CCTV children’s programs. Together with Elmo and Lily, the host explains things like why dumplings are eaten at New Year’s, why it’s customary to wear red, and why it’s significant that 2014 is the Year of the Horse.  The segments will air on CCTV throughout January and February.

Sesame Workshop and CCTV had a thirty-year history of working together. In 1983, we collaborated to produce Big Bird in China, which was the first time a Sesame Street Muppet traveled to China. Now, decades later, we’re getting together, again, as we continue to educate and inspire the children of China.

To learn more about all the ways Sesame Workshop helps children in China reach their full potential, click here.

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