Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Using Powers for Good

A hundred years ago (give or take), before I moved to Colorado, I lived in Michigan and worked for a public television station. As educational outreach coordinator of children’s programming, I trained parents and preschool and early elementary teachers to use PBS programming as an educational tool. I learned an important lesson at that job. Children learn in various ways and it’s essential to provide educators with alternative teaching resources, especially teachers in cash-strapped school districts.

So what does this have to do with geekdom? I want to tell you about two great alternative educational programs started by comic book fans. I got excited when I interviewed to help with Denver Comic Con, especially when they told me that they were the fundraiser for Comic Book Classroom (CBC). CBC is an after school literacy program that gets reluctant readers interested in reading through comic books. The students don’t just read comic books; they learn out to create their own sequential art…that’s a fancy way of saying comics for non-geek readers. This seven-week program takes the budding artists through the process of creating a story and the artwork. After it’s all said and done, the students will get their own table at Denver Comic Con to show off their work and get to meet and consult with professional comic book artist about their creations.

I’ve always admired teachers who were able to recognize that sometimes they had to go that extra mile to find unique ways to reach their kids. CBC is in eight schools this semester, up from our first class last fall. We have three summer programs scheduled and a waiting list for schools for fall. Everyone involved volunteers, including the executive director, Illya Kowalchuk. It’s our hope that the success of Denver Comic Con allow us to expand into even more schools and offer our curriculum outside the Denver area. But we’re one small program and the need for this type of curriculum is huge.

So what does a superhero do once he or she runs up against a tough villain they can’t fight on their own? They team up with other superheroes. There’s a Kickstarter out there for a great project called The Graphic Textbook. The creator of the literacy program Reading with Pictures, Josh Elder, has brought together notable artists, like Katie Cook and Amy Reeder, with educators to create lesson plans for 3-6 graders. More and more educators are beginning to recognize the value for sequential art as a learning tool. And why not? Imagine, as a student, being able to see train A going 60 miles an hour heading west, while train B… You get the picture. I wish this had been available when I was a kid. I remember kind, old Mr Krietzinger telling me not to worry, girls weren't supposed to be good at math. But I digress, that's another social issue we can talk about later. The Graphic Textbook is another amazing option for teachers to reach kids. But they need help to get it published.

The cool thing is Comic Book Classroom and The Graphic Textbook project have teamed up! Comic Book Classroom is providing tickets to the new Denver Comic Con in June as a Kickstarter reward for The Graphic Textbook. And, it just happens both Katie Cook and Amy Reeder will be appearing there. You can use your powers for good by supporting two great children’s literacy programs at once and get to see great artists in the process. So if you're looking for a great destination Con or a great way to spend Father's Day and want to help kids, then check it out (they're over in the the Cool Stuff to Check Out menu)! And if you do purchase the DCC reward, find me when you get there, I'd love to say thanks for supporting a cause that's near and dear to my heart!!!

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