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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Sesame Street Live Hits Chautauqua

Sesame Street Live Hits Chautauqua

By Dave Emke,

CHAUTAUQUA - During Chautauqua Institution's ''Kids!'' theme week, it's only fitting that a man whose work has touched millions would make an appearance.
Gary Knell, president and CEO of the Sesame Workshop, will speak in the Amphitheater this morning at 10:45. It will be Knell's second appearance on the hallowed stage - he first spoke at Chautauqua during the 2007 season.
''I begged them to take me back,'' Knell laughed when asked about his return.
In reality, there was no begging involved. Knell said Tom Becker, Chautauqua Institution president, reached out to him as part of an effort to build relationships with non-profit organizations - such as Knell's Sesame Workshop - to create theme weeks such as Week 1's ''Kids!'' program.
The week is dedicated to early childhood education, including issues such as economics, brain development, the natural world, technology and formal preschool education. The local sponsor for the week is PNC Bank, which has worked hand-in-hand with Sesame Workshop through its Grow Up Great program, according to Marlene Mosco, regional president for PNC's Northwest Pennsylvania market.
''It's a 10-year, $100 million project, founded and underwritten by PNC,'' Ms. Mosco said. ''We've worked very closely with Sesame to develop materials and strategically plan all the things that we wanted to make sure we accomplish with this type of investment that we're making.''
In addition to its involvement with the Sesame Workshop, PNC funds programming geared toward young-child education in Erie County at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center and Sarah Reed Children's Center, among other locations.
Prior to Knell's lecture in the Amphitheater, he will speak at a breakfast for 75 early educators from around the region. The event is also being sponsored by PNC through the Grow Up Great program.
Sesame Street Live took the stage at Chautauqua on Wednesday night, and Knell said programs such as that are among the ways the Sesame Workshop continues to reach children in a new world where there are numerous options for and distractions from literacy education.
''There is so much evidence now about kids needing to become literate by second or third grade,'' Knell said. ''And if that doesn't happen, the chances of them actually succeeding and graduating high school go way down. High school graduation is the greatest alleviator of poverty, so it's very important that we build a culture of learning at an early age and that we build in a proficiency of reading.''
The Sesame Workshop is active in 140 nations, Knell said, with indigenous versions of Sesame Street being produced in two dozen. Those versions often deal with local issues that affect children, such as HIV/AIDS awareness in South Africa, respect for others in Israel and Northern Ireland, and female education in Egypt.
''This is a way of bringing awareness and starting to look at kids who are victims and are treated differently, and of turning around their whole lives,'' Knell said.
Knell said the driver of awareness in foreign nations is a television program, like it is in the United States, which is then coupled with radio and print media campaigns.
''It's gets the messages out to a population of kids who can really benefit from it,'' he said.
Sesame Street is celebrating its 40th year in the United States. In a world that has changed immensely since the program debuted, Knell said it has maintained its appeal and its far-reaching ability by understanding its audience's wants and needs.
''I always tell the employees in the workshop that I'm not the boss - the boss is a 4-year-old girl with a remote control,'' he said. ''If she's bored, you're not meeting your mission of reaching those kids.''
In addition, Knell said Sesame Workshop has embraced new technologies to continue getting its efforts of literacy promotion through to youth. Sesame Workshop boasts the nation's top preschool podcast, and Sesame Street is available on Hulu and various on-demand services, which Knell said provides parents with options they desperately need.
''When they want their kid to have a Sesame Street experience, they don't have to be home at 7 or 8 in the morning when the show is scheduled - they can do it on their time and be much more in charge of when or where they want their child to be,'' he said. ''We know we can deliver the content - the real question is about breaking through the clutter and reaching people where they are.''
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