Tag Archives: Family Services

Legislators to Vote on Cyber Bullying Law This Week

Nearly one in five children are victims of cyber bullying, and studies have suggested that on sites like Facebook, bullies outnumber their victims four-to-one. It’s a serious problem, and in an increasingly digital society, the stakes climb higher every day. Yet educators and parents often feel powerless, unable to identify cyber bullies and having little recourse even when they do. Luckily, there may be some good news for children on the horizon, because legislators in New York State have introduced a bill that would make cyber bullying a crime.

Last Tuesday, lawmakers in Monroe County passed a bill defining cyber bullying as a crime punishable with fines totaling $1,000 and up to a year of jail time. This week, the bill’s been elevated to the state level where Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York state legislators will determine whether or not the law should apply statewide. They’re expected to reach a decision before the close of the week.

The amended state bill doesn’t carry with it the fines and penalties that were passed on the county level, but it will define cyber bullying as a crime and therefore make it subject to existing laws. New York State Senator Joe Robach told YNN Rochester, “While we didn’t increase any penalties, there are already laws in place that if you hurt anybody or cause anybody harm you could be civilly and sometimes criminally liable so we really want to up the awareness. We don’t want any tragedies with our young people or older people over cyber bullying or harassment.”

The law goes a step further, giving educators tools to determine what to do with kids who are bullying others online, and helping them prevent threats before they occur. Under the law, schools would be legally obligated to develop a formal protocol for dealing with cyber bullies and online harassment. They’d also be required to designate a school official to manage investigations and file legal reports. Educators would be responsible for developing and implementing curriculums to address online bullying and to teach appropriate behaviors and responses to students.

Cyber bullying is by no means a new issue, but it’s one that’s gained a brighter spotlight in New York following the death of Amanda Cummings in January. The 15-year-old from Staten Island committed suicide by jumping in front of a public bus — an act her family members contest was the direct result of cyber bullying. At the time, Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union told the New York Times, “I think the notion that the criminal justice system is going to prevent any other child from being the subject of bullying is unrealistic.”

It’s a sentiment many legislators hope to prove wrong by the end of this week. If they do, it won’t just be good news for children in New York — it could influence law makers in other states and possibly even lead to new initiatives on the national level. In the ongoing fight to protect children from cyber bullying, it’s a step in the right direction.

Recap of FredForward 2012

The Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College hosted the 2012 FredForward conference this past week from Sunday, June 3rd to Tuesday, June 5th. The biennial conference brings together leading figures in the world of early childhood media production and scholarship for three days of discussions, presentations, and networking to help advance the field of children’s media and carry forward the legacy of Fred Rogers.

With an attendance of approximately 150 people, FredForward draws a concentrated mix of influential thinkers, speakers, and media makers from around the world. Several Spark Network members were among those presenting on panels and in speaking sessions throughout the conference.

Voices of Children

An ongoing feature of the conference, Voices of Children speakers remixed the advice of Fred Rogers to “Think of the Children First.” By using new tools and technologies, scholars like Dr. Alice Wilder advocate the maxim to “Listen to the Children.”

To see this ethos in action, Jessica Kaminsky and Jessica Pachuta from the CREATE Lab at Carnegie Mellon presented Hear Me, a project that uses media and technology to create opportunities for children to be heard, acknowledged and understood, giving them the power to inspire social change.

Framework for Quality

A major focus of the 2012 conference was the recently released “Building a Framework for Quality in Digital Media for Young Children” statement by the Fred Rogers Center. Discussions ranged from defining the meaning of quality for different audiences, the need for multilingual content, to policy recommendations to improve the technological infrastructure of early learning environments.

In the Curation and Crowdsourcing panel, Drew Davidson from the Entertainment Technology Center at Carnegie Mellon University shared the stage with Shira Lee Katz from Common Sense Media, Emily Kirkpatrick from the National Center for Family Literarcy, and GeekDad Daniel Donahoo, who Skyped in from Australia.

Moderated by Rob Lippincott from PBS Learning Media, the panel examined how quality can be evaluated and advanced in an era of mass participation in and production of new media.

For his part, Drew provided conference-goers with an overview of workingexamples.org, a collaborative project with James Paul Gee that proposes to create a digital space where people can show examples of how their ideas, theories, claims, or hypotheses work in terms that people beyond their own disciplines or domains can understand, assess, and appreciate. Drew offered Working Examples as a means for early childhood practitioners and children’s media producers to test ideas and provide critical feedback in order to illuminate failures and successes.

Play to Learns

Throughout the conference on Monday, attendees had the opportunity to interact with several examples of new media and digital technology programs for children in the Play-to-Learn showcase. Among the participants were several Spark network projects including Apps4Kids from Playpower, Popchilla’s World from Interbots, ZooBeats from WYEP and Electric Owl Studios, Hello Robo! from the Carnegie Science Center, and Message from Me from the CREATE Lab.

Play-to-Learn exhibits illustrated the principles of the Fred Rogers Center Framework for Quality in action and gave attendees a glimpse of how members of the Spark Network are using technology and media to provide children with remarkable opportunities to learn and be creative.

For more details on the conference, visit the FredForward website and read the conference’s Twitter backchannel using the hashtag #FredForward.




Mister Rogers Compilation Helps Autistic Children

The Fred Rogers Company recently released a DVD geared towards autistic children. Entitled Friends and Feelings, the video compilation features four full-length episodes of Mister Roger’s Neighborhood along with bonus features and extras. The project is the first DVD of its kind from the company, so it’s no surprise that parents and educators are excited about its release.

It’s hard to believe that the popular children’s show Mister Rogers Neighborhood will celebrate its 45th anniversary next year. Unlike many other children’s shows, the world of Mister Rogers has stood the test of time, remaining popular for over two generations of children. That staying power says a lot about the quality of content found in each 30-minute segment and a lot about the man behind the magic. Fred Rogers’ passion for children’s programming was as dependable as his signature cardigan and sneakers, and his personality and entertaining style have always created an engaging and stress-free experience for all children, including children with autism spectrum disorders. The Fred Rogers Company explains:

“The Fred Rogers Company has heard time and again from parents and teachers that children with autism connect in powerful ways with the calming pace, caring tone, and predictability of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.They say that watching and reflecting on the program helps decrease anxiety and excitability, improve listening and speaking skills, and encourage imaginative play. Friends and Feelings, developed with input from numerous autism experts,will deliver Fred’s messages and modeling to a new generation of children, parents, and professionals.”

The episodes featured aren’t specifically about autism. Instead, they focus on skills and lessons that many children with autism struggle with on a daily basis. Episodes cover topics like sharing, self control, friendship, patience and managing emotions. In addition to these episodes, the Friends and Feelings DVD also includes introductions from psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists and special education consultants. To create this compilation, the Fred Rogers Company worked closely with 20 organizations in Southwestern Pennsylvania that benefit children with autism. Thanks to their support, a grant from the FISA Foundation with added assistance from the Darlington Charitable Trust and the Hafner Charitable Foundation, more than 12,000 copies of the DVD will be distributed the child care centers, therapists, schools and families for free.

Friends with Feelings is also available for purchase at the organization’s website and soon you’ll be able to download it on Amazon.com. In the meantime, you can learn more about the DVD and access additional autism resources at fredrogers.org.

So why are we so excited about this project? If you’re familiar with the Spark network, you know that we have a history of funding endeavors that use technology and media to make the lives of all children better — including children with autism. Take, for example, the Spark-funded project Character Therapy which uses a friendly robot named Popchilla to help children with autism learn to recognize and understand emotions. Popchilla, and the app that accompanies it, can help autistic children communicate better and form deeper connections with their loved ones and the world around them. To learn more about Popchilla, visit our projects page.

Between robotic Popchilla and Friends with Feelings, one things for sure — Pittsburgh is working hard to make the world a better place for autistic children, and we have no doubts that those efforts move far beyond Pittsburgh to make the nation, and maybe even the world a better place for children and parents alike. Are you a parent, teacher or therapist who plans to use the Friends and Feelings DVD to help the autistic children in your life? Tell us about it by connecting with us on Facebook or Twitter.


Exciting Pittsburgh Events — Pittsburgh International Children’s Festival

Here at Spark, we often talk about topics that influence the education and lives of children around the world, but every once in a while we like to focus in on important Pittsburgh events. One of those events is happening right now in the heart of Oakland. It’s the Pittsburgh International Children’s Festival and it’s celebrating its 26th year of success. The festival began yesterday, and while you may have missed Dave Crowley hula-hooping while covering the event, the festival will continue on until the 20th, giving you lots of time to get in on all the learning fun. Here’s what you can expect:

A Scottish Cinderella. Shona Reppe has been travelling the world for over 10 years, bringing audiences everywhere her unique take on the classic Cinderella story. With handmade puppets and a set inspired by 50’s-style kitchenettes, Reppe’s recreation puts a refreshing spin on one of the most popular stories in the world. Unlike some puppeteers, Reppe is always in plain view as she manipulates puppets and even addresses the audience directly. The result is a show that children can be engaged in and challenged by instead of one that simply retells a familiar tale.

Play with Plop! Theater can be a great way to make learning fun and enjoyable for children of all ages. Unfortunately, children’s first experiences with the theater can sometimes be scary, uncomfortable or, worst of all, boring. A bad first experience can turn many kids away from theater, causing them to miss out on valuable learning opportunities and a lifetime of entertainment. Australia’s Windmill Theatre hope to change that. The group’s show, entitled Plop! is a live-action interpretation of Ursula Dubosarsky’s popular children’s picture book The Terrible Plop. Every aspect of the show was created with the 0-5 year old audience in mind. In fact, its creators even consulted children throughout the development of the show, making adjustments so that kids stayed as engaged and entertained as possible. The result is a fun interactive play that’s a perfect choice for any child’s first theatrical experience.

Chill with Some Dudes. The Netherlands are different from Pittsburgh in more ways than one. For example, they label their guest locker rooms with a word that, in Dutch, means “dudes.” It’s that word, and the world of locker rooms that play a part in every childhood, that inspired Dutch theatre company Beumer and Drost to create a show called, you guessed it — Dudes. Part scripted, part improvisational, the show incorporates singing, dancing, puppetry, juggling and a unique blend of comedy that will keep kids laughing and playing along throughout the entire performance.

Be Amazed by Mirazozo. Most Pittsburgh events feature a headliner that’s a person. Not this one. The star of the show here is Mirazozo, a 150-foot inflatable sculpture brought to us from the Architects of Air, based out of Nottingham, UK. Drive by the enormous structure and you’ll be struck by the grey futuristic forms dominating Bill Mazeroski Field. But it’s once you step inside the sculpture that the magic really happens. Light shines through special colored sections of the sculture, and plays across the other-worldly corridors inside. Children who explore the sculpture have their imaginations take flight — comparing the experience to being inside a giant creature or traveling in space. Grown-ups can’t help but experience a sense of awe themselves. So even if you don’t have a child of your own, grab a favorite niece or nephew and go experience Mirazozo together. It truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Spark Showcase Tent

If you’ve made a promise to yourself, or to your kids, to attend more Pittsburgh events and have more summer learning fun this season, the Pittsburgh International Children’s Festival is a great place to start. Remember, the festival will also feature interactive play stations, performers, local personalities and more. Be sure not to miss the Spark Showcase Tent smack dab in the middle of Schenley Plaza to see more than a dozen of our Spark-funded projects in action, like the Digital Discovery Room at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, an energy-generating see-saw from ReplayMyPlay, and music makers ZooBeats from WYEP.

Have you already made a trip to the festival? We want to hear your reactions. Stop by our Facebook page of tweet us @Sparkpgh to tell us your favorite part of the event.