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February 27, 2012

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Tweeting the Clouds Away

By Dan Lewis


Tomorrow  – February 28th – we’ll be trying something new here at Sesame Workshop. A few of us are going to be tweeting about what we’re up to, giving others a glimpse into the work we do here at Sesame Workshop.  We’re visiting potential funders, working on handwashing habits in Indonesia, preparing for an event Thursday (stay tuned!), and a few other things.  If you follow us on Twitter at @SesameWorkshop, we’ll be retweeting some of the updates from:

  • Sherrie Westin, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, @srwestin
  • Patrick Key, Vice President, Strategic Partnerships and Development, @PatrickKeySW
  • Dan Donohue, Senior Director, Global Education, @DJD007NYC
  • Giao Roever, Director, Marketing and Creative Services, @GiaoRoever
  • And me, Dan Lewis, Director, New Media Communications, @DanDotLewis

See you tomorrow!

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February 24, 2012

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This Week in Sesame Street: Gordon and African-American Fatherhood

By Graydon Gordian


Matt Robinson, Hal Miller, and Roscoe Orman, who have all played Sesame Street's Gordon.

Thursday was the birthday of Gordon, the beloved father figure to the children and monsters that live on Sesame Street. Over the years Gordon has been played by different men: Matt Robinson, Hal Miller and, currently, Roscoe Orman.  In addition to their warmth, kindness and strength, they’ve all had one thing in common: Matt, Hal and Roscoe are all African-American. This is hardly a coincidence. The character Gordon was conceived with the intention of presenting a more positive, dignified image of African-American masculinity than many children were exposed to at the time. In honor of Black History Month and Gordon’s birthday, we’re taking a look back at the social significance and impact of the character Gordon.

When Joan Ganz Cooney conceived of Sesame Street, she did so in the wake of 1965’s Moynihan Report, a report by Assistant Secretary of Labor and future U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The report claimed that, in the black community, a combination of out-of-wedlock births and absentee fathers were creating a cycle of poverty. If the show was going to fulfill its mission of providing early childhood education for underserved communities, it was going to have to tackle the questions surrounding the black family head on.

Gordon Robinson, who was named after photographer, filmmaker and civil rights activist Gordon Parks, and his wife Susan were the answer. As Roscoe Orman, who has played Gordon on Sesame Street since 1974, wrote in his memoirs, “what the character most significantly symbolizes, his most distinguishing and praiseworthy attribute, may lie in the simple fact that he is a man of African descent who for over three decades has been a respected and beloved father figure to young people of all races and all social classes all across America and beyond.” When the show began, many portrayals of African-American males in television, film and media were largely negative, whereas, in the words of Orman, Gordon “provided a model of patience, understanding, and civic responsibility.”

Michael Davis, the author of Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street, even suggested that Gordon may have served as a model for President Barack Obama when he worked as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago.

Meanwhile Susan, Gordon’s wife, served as an exemplary model of African-American womanhood and together they created an enduring image of a black family that is loving and stable.

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February 22, 2012

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Sesame Workshop, Early Years and the Future of Northern Irish Early Education

By Graydon Gordian


Since 2008 Sesame Tree, Sesame Workshop’s co-production in Northern Ireland, has been encouraging the children of Northern Ireland to appreciate both the similarities and differences that exist in their society and respect the feelings of other children, no matter their cultural background. We’re excited to announce that Early Years, a Sesame Tree outreach partner, has received a grant from Northern Ireland’s Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) that will allow the organization to use Sesame Tree-based materials to further our mutual educational goals.

Over the next month, Early Years will help build the infrastructure necessary to make the Sesame Tree program, materials and training resources sustainable in Northern Ireland. Early Years, the largest volunteer organization in Northern Ireland that works with children ages 0-12, will establish a Project Advisory Group made up of leaders from the worlds of education and culture, integrate Sesame Tree materials into its core training activities, and explore further ways the Sesame Tree curriculum can be integrated into cultural institutions and the organizations outreach efforts.

The DCAL is not the only organization that has recognized the impact of Sesame Tree on the lives of Northern Irish children. The show is also a finalist for the prestigious Prix Jeunesse International Prize 2012 in the category of fiction for children up to the age of 6. The award is given to a children’s show that “enables children to see, hear and express themselves and their culture, and that enhances an appreciation and awareness of other cultures.”

Sesame Workshop, Early Years and our Belfast-based production partner Sixteen South are excited that the show is being recognized for its positive influence on the lives of Northern Irish children and that it will be able to continue to encourage those children to celebrate their differences, rather than let them drive each other apart.

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February 21, 2012

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The Meaning and Importance of Pro-Social Behavior

By Graydon Gordian


Sharing, taking turns, listening to one another: Sesame Street has been encouraging these kinds of benevolent actions since the show’s first episodes. Here at Sesame Workshop, our early childhood education specialists call these kinds of actions “pro-social behavior.” It’s a term we use often when talking about the empathy and kindness we try to engender in children.

But we can’t all be early childhood education specialists, which means we might not all recognize the term pro-social behavior right away. That’s why we wanted to take a few minutes and explain exactly what we mean when we use the term.

According to our early childhood education experts, pro-social behavior is when children show positive behaviors such as sharing, cooperating, empathy, and taking turns when interacting with others. These skills can help children build strong friendships and relationships and enable children to navigate different social circumstances in a constructive manner.

Put differently, children experience many of the same emotional trials as adults – interpersonal conflict, the loss of loved ones, even the challenges of economic hardship are not lost on children. If a child is not given the emotional tools to handle those trials, they can have a lasting negative impact on his or her life. The more emotional education a child can receive at a young age, the better. If children’s behavioral problems are ignored, they are more likely to struggle in school and act out later in life.

The value of encouraging “pro-social behavior” at a young age isn’t just a theory of ours. Our research and education team has demonstrated its importance and the effectiveness of our educational methods time and again. For instance, children who view Sesame Street episodes with pro-social messages exhibit significantly higher levels of pro-social behavior than those who do not watch, as much as 40% higher.

For more information about pro-social behavior and Sesame Street’s proven ability to encourage it in young children, check out our page on emotional wellbeing.

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February 17, 2012

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This Week in Sesame Street: Happy Anniversary Jalan Sesama

By Graydon Gordian


In this week’s edition of “This Week in Sesame Street,” we’re celebrating the 4 year anniversary of the debut episode of Jalan Sesama, Sesame Workshop’s co-production in Indonesia. On February 18, 2008 Tantan, Momon, Putrik and Jabrik – the Jalan Sesama MuppetsTM – began bringing the children of Indonesia laughter and encouraging them to love to learn.

Like every international co-production Sesame Workshop helps produce, Jalan Sesama takes into account the specific educational needs of children in Indonesia. That means not only teaching the building blocks of literacy and numeracy like we do in every international co-production. An appreciation of cultural diversity – Indonesia has over 300 native ethnicities spread across its more than 17,000 islands – and environmental awareness – Indonesia has the world’s second highest level of biodiversity – are also major parts of the Jalan Sesama curriculum.

Congratulations to all the hardworking people in Indonesia who help make Jalan Sesama a reality, especially our local partner Creative Indigo Production, and thanks to the American people and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), whose generous support makes the show possible.

For more information on Jalan Sesama and the work Sesame Workshop is going in Indonesia, click here.

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February 15, 2012

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The Joys and Challenges of Educating Children in Nigeria

By Graydon Gordian


From Sesame Square, the Nigerian version of Sesame Street

Ayobisi Osuntusa is executive director of education, research, and outreach for Sesame Workshop’s Nigerian co-production, Sesame Square, currently funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) with additional support from the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Since 2008 she has been part of the team helping to teach Nigerian children the basics of literacy and numeracy as well as encourage greater appreciation of Nigeria’s rich cultural heritage. Recently we spoke with Ayobisi to learn more about the unique joys and challenges of working to educate the youth of this diverse African nation.

Sesame Workshop: Tell me a bit about the day-to-day operations in Nigeria. What does being executive director of education, research and outreach entail, specifically?

Ayobisi Osuntusa: We do a million things. Day-to-day, the focus right now is to develop our second set of outreach materials for health, numeracy, and science. We’re also looking for sponsors to advertise and essentially take some of the responsibility for helping us to broadcast nationwide and paying for that. We are looking for ways meet the demand for education reform in the North. Study shows that formal learning in the local languages at an early age can help boost the level of English literacy and understanding. We hope to be able to dub the television episodes (currently in Nigeria’s official language, English) into the local language to assist in this goal.

SW: As you suggest, Northern Nigeria is very different from the South. Tell me more about the cultural diversity of Nigeria and what your team does to ensure Sesame Square’s curriculum is effective no matter which region of the country the child lives in.

AO: Nigerians are all very different, our views, our cultures, so we have to be respectful of what we say and how we say it. Nigeria is divided into six geopolitical zones. We have about 500 languages in Nigeria, if not more.

To celebrate this diversity, we decided to introduce different live action films from all around Nigeria. We have live action films from the North, from the Southeast, from the Southwest. If you see a child dressed up in their traditional clothes, you will know from which part of the country they are from. In these films, children greeted members of their family and community in various languages and motions. This we felt was a great way to introduce the various greetings across Nigeria, so children could be exposed to their country’s rich cultural and linguistic diversity.

Ayobisi Osuntusa, third from the right, with some Nigerian children at a Sesame Workshop event in Nigeria.

AO:  There is a lot of room to improve education in Nigeria. Our program isn’t just about ABCs and 123s. We infuse it with thinking and reasoning skills; health, hygiene, and nutrition; child, family, and social relations; understanding, respect, and diversity; and finally arts and cultural heritage. Nigeria is blessed with a wonderful culture in which the community is concerned about each person and each child. We try to bring that back: respecting your elders, loving your community, and assisting the less fortunate. At the same time, we’re trying to teach the basics that children need to grow and succeed in school.

Another part of our project is about HIV/AIDS. It caused quite a stir, because people thought we were planning to teach small children about sex education. Eventually they realized that we are teaching them about loving everyone around you (reduce the stigma of HIV), that even if someone has HIV, you can love them, share food with them, and most importantly, play with them. We inform the children that their bodies belong to them, and if anyone does anything negative to their bodies, they have a right to say no and inform their parents/guardians.

We talk a bit about malaria; the number of children who die of malaria in Nigeria is large. We teach children to make sure there is no stagnant water in their compound, we encourage them to cover open water containers, and to sleep under a treated mosquito net.

Another interesting thing about the program is we try to promote girls’ education, by encouraging girls to go to school and stay there. Sesame Square features women who have succeeded to become important contributors to the society, like female pilots. We show a live action segment where a little girl goes to the airport and meets a female pilot. We also introduce a woman in the North who is a carpenter. We show and share situations where women have done very well for themselves in what is perceived as a “man’s” profession.

SW: Nigeria is a complex place, not only culturally, but also politically and economically. Tell me about that complexity and what the Sesame Square team does to overcome it.

AO: There seems to be a lot of problems in the Northern part of Nigeria right now with the bombings. It is a bit scary when you hear what’s going on, but like my husband who works in that part of the country, people still go about their day-to-day lives.

Another challenge we have is the fact that TVs are not in every household. We’re trying to find ways to around this. In most communities, you do find people with TVs, and as we’re working within the communities, we are identifying people who could share the use their TVs, whether it’s “come to our house and watch TV once a week,” or donate a television set.

Right now we have a little pilot project in Kano State in the North. We partnered with International Foundation for Education and Self Help (IFESH) and Intel. For this activity three pilot sites have been identified to receive our materials. Intel has donated laptops, and we’ve supplied Season 1 episodes of Sesame Square as well as a set of literacy activities on external hard drives for each laptop. IFESH has supplied reading materials and built a reading corner at the sites, and all three partners are conducting training on how to use their materials most effectively.

We are continuing to look for creative ways and additional platforms including radio to share the Sesame Square learning experience with children who otherwise might have little access to our show or other early education opportunities.

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February 14, 2012

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Sesame Workshop, Toonmax Media Bring Sesame Street Back to China

By Graydon Gordian


Toonmax Media President Yang Wen Yan, Sesame Workshop CEO Mel Ming, and Oscar the Grouch chat at a cocktail party to celebrate our partnership.

For Yang Wen Yan and Ye Chao, the respective president and vice president of Shanghai-based Toonmax Media, the return of Sesame Street to China is about more than a strategic partnership that they believe will help their company grow. It’s about reuniting with a show that has been a part of their lives for decades.

“About 20 years ago I was involved in the Production of Zhima Jie,” as Sesame Street was known in China, said Ms. Yang through a translator. “I was a line producer” when Sesame Workshop started working on a Chinese co-production in 1993.

For Mr. Ye, the connection goes back even further. “The first time I experienced Sesame Street was 1984, when I was visiting a studio in Germany that was producing the German co-production of Sesame Street,” he said, also through a translator. He would begin working on Zhima Jie in 1994.

However, Zhima Jie went off the air in 2001 and Ms. Yang and Mr. Ye moved on, eventually working together again as the top executives at Toonmax Media. Mr. Ye said he was pleasantly surprised when the opportunity to bring Sesame Street back to Chinese television came along in 2010.

“It’s just like the Sesame Street TV content, which brings lots of surprises,” said Mr. Ye. “I got surprised too.”

According to Ms. Yang, partnering with Sesame Workshop makes perfect sense for a company like Toonmax Media. High quality educational content is one of their two major focuses (the other is animation), and from their experience working with Sesame Workshop they know firsthand how much time, energy and educational research goes into producing our programs.

Just like every international co-production, Sesame Street’s Big Bird Looks at the World, which began airing in China in 2010, a tremendous amount of effort and care has gone into ensuring that the program is best suited for the educational needs of local children. In China, this means creating a curriculum for a slightly older audience – 4 to 6-year-olds instead of 2 to 4-year olds, which the American show is meant for – and making sure the series fosters children’s natural curiosity about nature and science and encourages hands-on exploration as a great way to learn.

While the curriculum for Sesame Street’s Big Bird Looks at the World may differ from the American version, Ms. Yang believes it is the universal charm of the Sesame Street MuppetsTM that makes the program a success.

“It’s really about the personality of the characters,” she said. “What is unique is the Muppets.”

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This Week in Sesame Street: Our Furry Friends Visit the White House

By Graydon Gordian


On Tuesday, February 7, beloved Sesame Street monster Grover stopped by the White House to help White House Chef Sam Kass and the children of chefs who currently work in the White House learn about the ways kids can help their parents prepare a tasty and healthy meal. The Sesame Street MuppetsTM have a long history of visiting the White House, so in today’s edition of, “This Week in Sesame Street,” we’re talking about some of the times our furry friends have had a chance to hang out with the President.

The Sesame Street MuppetsTM made their first appearance at the White House on December 20, 1970, when Big Bird, Mr. Hooper and the rest of the gang joined First Lady Pat Nixon, wife of Richard Nixon, to perform a Christmas show for an audience of excited children.

The cast of Sesame Street at Richard Nixon's White House.

That would hardly be the last time our friends from Sesame Street would stop by the president’s home. Big Bird made Christmas time appearances during both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter’s administrations, the latter of which included a performance with Kermit the Frog and Joe Raposo, composer of the Sesame Street theme song, in the East Room of the White House. In fact, Sesame Street MuppetsTM would go on to visit the White House of every subsequent president: Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have all invited Big Bird, Elmo, Cookie Monster and other Sesame Street MuppetsTM back to the White House for various reasons.

Big Bird appears with Betty Ford, wife of President Gerald Ford, at the White House.

Whether it be for Christmas celebrations, Easter egg hunts, to encourage literacy at the National Book Festival, or in order to teach kids lessons about healthy eating like their most recent visit, the Sesame Street MuppetsTM have been welcomed guests at the home of the president for over 40 years.

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February 09, 2012

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Elmo’s Birthday Party: Tons of Fun!

By Graydon Gordian


elmo-8

Picture 1 of 13

Elmo’s birthday party was last week and everyone  had lots of fun! Lots of kids and their parents got to hang out with Elmo and Nitya Vidyasagar, who plays Leela on Sesame Street. Everyone ate cake, took part in fun coloring activities and watched “Elmo’s World: Birthdays,” part of a new home DVD release from Sesame Street. Thanks to everyone who stopped by and celebrated with Elmo!

Photo Credit: Zach Hyman

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February 08, 2012

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Electric Company Cast Meets Young Girl on her Make-A-Wish Day

By Graydon Gordian


For years Sesame Workshop has been working with the Make-A-Wish Foundation to help fulfill the wishes of young children with life-threatening illnesses. That’s why, when we found out that it was the dream of 8-year-old Isabella Icatar to meet the cast of The Electric Company, we were honored to make that dream a reality.

On Sunday, January 29 Isabella and her family came from their home in Connecticut to New York City, where they had lunch with Jenni Barber, Priscilla Diaz and Josh Segarra, who play Lisa, Jennifer and Hector on the show. Jenni, Priscilla and Josh were so excited and humbled to get to know such a brave young girl as Isabella.

Isabella’s father Roneil wrote about the day on her family’s blog. From the sounds of it, they had a pretty wonderful time:

The most exciting time of the lunch was when the three of them made Isabella an actual member of the Electric Company!  She had to first agree to the terms of becoming a member, then they presented her a certificate to prove her membership!  Afterwards, they serenaded her to one of her favorite songs “Silent E”.

As lunch wound down, we took a bunch of pictures with them and they also signed a bunch of things for us.  We said our goodbyes, and although our time with the Electric Company was done, our Make-A-Wish day was not done yet.

Isabella and her family spent the rest of the day taking a carriage ride through Central Park and filling up on tasty treats at Dylan’s Candy Bar. Read about the rest of Isabella’s Make-A-Wish day on her blog and check out the slideshow her parents made from all the photographs they took that day.

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