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In the Footsteps of Fred Rogers

By: Dr. John Smetanka
Posted Wed., February 1, 2012

On Saturday, the Rogers Center hosted a seminar for its Early Career Fellows – five professionals currently working in the children’s media or early learning – and Rogers Scholars – six undergraduates in their junior year from a variety of majors. This diverse group had one central trait in common. Through their work, they hope to make a profound, positive difference in the lives of children. They strive to be the next generation of artists, scholars, and educators to carry forward the spirit and vision of Fred Rogers.

Organized by the Executive Director of the Rogers Center, Ms. Rita Catalano, the day was filled with presentations from scholars, educators, and those working in children’s media. The seminar’s keynote speaker was Senior Fellow, Dr. Ellen Wartella. A leading scholar studying the role media plays on the development of children, Dr. Wartella is a Professor of both Communication and Psychology at Northwestern University. Fittingly, she first suggested developing the Rogers Scholars program at the College. Dr. Melisa Cook, chair of the Communication Department, is directing the Rogers Scholar program, which is in its pilot year.

In a talk to College faculty the evening before the seminar, Dr. Wartella stressed the importance of high-quality, early learning for the successful development of children. She also pointed out that in the US, only twelve states have universal pre-school education. In the other states, the quality of the learning environment for small children can vary tremendously and in some states a significant percentage of those working in early learning centers are under-qualified. She stressed the need for more research to continue to demonstrate the effectiveness of quality early learning centers. This research must be used to convince parents and politicians that an investment in early childhood education is sure to pay huge dividends by setting our children on the path for success at school. Other nations such as the Netherlands are seeing those positive results now with higher test scores and graduation rates from high school and college.

During the seminar, Dr. Wartella drew parallels between the evolution of the research agenda on the impact of television over the past 50 years and the more recent research on the impact of a plethora of new digital media on the development of children. Another Senior Fellow, Dr. Roberta Schomburg, Associate Dean and Director of the Carlow University School of Education, spoke on the importance of the upcoming joint position statement from the Fred Rogers Center and the National Association for the Education of Young Children. Dr. Schomburg and others at the Rogers Center are about to release this statement which will provide guidance for early childhood professionals on the developmentally appropriate use of technology and interactive media. Fred Rogers demonstrated that television could be used effectively to enhance the lives of children. Today, similar opportunities exist using apps, streaming video or the web.

On Sunday, an example of one of these great apps, developed by the Fred Rogers Center, was featured by USA Today (see http://www.usatoday.com/tech/columnist/jinnygudmundsen/story/2012-01-29/apps-kids/52824072/1). Out-A-Bout, an app for the iPad, iPhone, and iTouch, allows parents and children to have fun snapping active photos that fit within a pre-developed story. The app teaches early reading skills as well as develops an amusing and entertaining personally-illustrated story that is able to be e-mailed to friends and family.

This is a truly exciting time to be involved with the work of the Rogers Center. The College is currently recruiting our next group of Rogers Scholars. Open to students from all majors including undeclared students, Rogers Scholars will be first-year students, starting in the Fall 2012, who share that dream of making a positive difference in the lives of children. If this is you, or you know someone who has this dream, please contact Dr. Cook (melissa.cook@email.stvincent.edu). Rogers Scholars will work closely with faculty from the College and Fellows from the Rogers Center to advance our understanding of children’s media and early learning and carry forward in the footsteps of Fred Rogers.
 

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Dr. John Smetanka,
Academic Affairs

Dr. John J. Smetanka has been a member of the full-time faculty since 1997 and currently serves as the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean of Saint Vincent College, a position he has held since January, 2008.