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Staff Writer
Columbus Parent

With funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the U.S. Department of Education, the new version of The Electric Company is a multimedia literacy campaign charged with reducing the literacy gap between low and middle income families and advancing the idea that 'reading is cool.' The show will be supplemented with a richly interactive online environment at www.pbskidsgo.org/electriccompany and community-based outreach activities taking place in cities with at-risk populations across the country.

The literacy crisis today is as pervasive and alarming as it was in 1971 when Sesame Workshop created the first version of The Electric Company. Overall 27% of public school fourth-graders score below basic levels on reading. By demographics, 54% of African American, 51% of Latino/Hispanic, 49% of American Indian, 24% of Asian American and 23% of Caucasian fourth-graders read below basic level.[1] Children in low-income families are particularly at risk because they generally hear 30 million fewer words by age three than those in middle or high income families.[2] Without a strong vocabulary, it becomes increasingly harder to read school materials and succeed academically.

"We've worked with literacy experts from around the country to develop a multimedia project that can resonate with struggling readers on many levels," stated Scott Cameron, Director of Education and Research for Sesame Workshop. "The sad truth is that in many communities across the U.S. rural areas, inner cities and suburbs about half of the children are not at reading level. The Electric Company is trying to reach children who are not connecting with school and reading. We are emphasizing skills that children need in order to be successful at sounding out words, applying reading strategies and expanding vocabulary."

The new version of The Electric Company's curricular goals include: decoding, comprehension of connected text, vocabulary and motivation. These goals are incorporated into the show with vocabulary focusing on specific kid friendly themes such as: the body, animals, games and space.

"Literacy skill development is a core curriculum area for PBS. Every child has a different approach to learning and sense of what engages them, and we are excited to launch this multimedia literacy campaign," said Linda Simensky, Vice President, Children's Programming, PBS. "The Electric Company's music, humor and lively cast of characters make learning to read fun and accessible for all children."

The Electric Company television show is brought to life with a 15 minute narrative storyline that is interspersed with segments that include curricular clusters of music videos, sketch comedy, animation and short films.

The cast of characters of The Electric Company is a group of do-gooders who keep the neighborhood safe with their literacy superpowers and solve problems often created by a group of troublemakers called "The Pranksters." Stationed from their home base, The Electric Diner, the team consists of four core cast members.

  • " Keith Watson," played by Ricky Smith, is a 13-year-old boy with the power to turn words into graphics/animation.
  • " Jessica Ruiz," played by Priscilla Diaz, is a 13-year-old girl with total aural recall allowing her to replay and display speech as text.
  • " Lisa Heffenbacher," played by Mansfield, Ohio native Jenni Barber, is a high school student with the power to solve any word problem at super human speed.
  • " Hector Ruiz," played by J osh Segarra, is a 20-year-old college student (and older brother to Jessica) that has the power to visually recall things he's seen, even if only peripherally.

Teaching letter sounds and words through a series of short films that occur within each episode is vocal percussionist, Chris Sullivan, who plays " Shock," an Electric Company member who works in the diner and provides the beat as the Company carries out its missions.

Season one of the new The Electric Company will feature comedy segments with Academy Award winning actress, Whoopi Goldberg, kid comedian and actor, Kyle Massey, former NFL superstar and Today Show correspondent Tiki Barber, rapper Common and 30 Rock's J ack McBrayer; music videos with Grammy Award winning musician Wyclef Jean and hip-hop superstar Sean Kingston; and original songs from singer/songwriter Ne-Yo, Saturday Night Live's Jimmy Fallon and R&B star Mario.