Saturday, August 22, 2009

We're Gonna Turn It On!

Back in 1971, I was 9 years old. We didn't have satellites or cable - we had over-the-air TV, which in my neck of the woods was CBS, sometimes NBC (if we were lucky and the atmospherics were right), and PBS. I don't remember an ABC at all. Of those, we were allowed to watch Walter Cronkite at night, Star Trek in the afternoon, and PBS's children's programming, which was coming into its own as award-winning television for kids.

My favorite show was THE ELECTRIC COMPANY, which featured Rita Moreno, Bill Cosby, and Morgan Freeman (and some other people that I don't remember). It was an amazing program and every afternoon, my brothers and I gathered around to see what the silhouette faces would say or if Easy Reader would order feet soup from the Menu Song.

Sadly, THE ELECTRIC COMPANY went off the air after many years of teaching children about reading and the power being able to read could give you in your life. Rita Moreno went on to become a well-known star of stage and screen. Bill Cosby had a great standup career before becoming Fat Albert and finally Dr. Huxtable. Morgan Freeman plays God or the President regularly (and quite convincingly) and is a very respected actor these days. THE ELECTRIC COMPANY was a great launchpad for their careers and for young readers everywhere.

And now it's back! With literacy rates falling and more and more children falling behind, PBS has resurrected the show... Same idea, whole new look and feel that kids these days relate to.

This past Friday (the last one before school starts), THE ELECTRIC COMPANY came to town on their "Circuit Show". We hosted them in our studio to Kids' Club members and invited groups of children - mostly from our Raising Readers initiative participants (schools that need help getting their students reading at grade level).

Our city is blessed with a very involved Mayor, who not only is an outspoken advocate of children and education, but is a very real presence at events that are aimed at increasing reading in our school communities. He came to give the kids a pre-school year pep talk and introduced another man from our town who has committed to helping disadvantaged children become all that they can be. Mr. Zach grew up with a father in jail, a mother on drugs. He did his own time in juvie. And realized that he had to do the work himself to make his life better - and that included an education. He's now a father of four and runs an operation that features these... Characters.

I tried to take stills of them, but... well, they don't stay still. In every picture, at least one of them was just a blur. They were introduced, got the kids involved and danced. Later, they served as "crowd" control. They signaled when to be quiet, to clap, and to make noise. And the kids did exactly what they were told to do. That's no mean feat when you're talking about 200+ kids!!!

The whole point of his program is to encourage kids to be the best people they can be and to encourage education as a means to living the lives they want to live.

And when Mr. Zach was done doing his thing, he introduced "Shock", the character from THE ELECTRIC COMPANY.

I apologize for the quality of the pictures... It's very hard to take photos in low-light - the camera tends to move, which exaggerates into a blur...

"Shock" had those kids going! They clapped and laughed and learned how to "beat-box" (that rapper-type noise making thing that they do with their mouths). He was very energetic and engaged the kids well.

I brought ZBoy, his friend William, and his friend Josh was there with his own mom. I really couldn't get a good picture of all three of them - they moved around a lot!

All in all, I thought it was a pretty good show. I did have to yank my boy out of there when William leaned on him and he shoved back - uncalled for!!! I marched him to my office and made him stay in there until I came back for him.

I did ask him what that was all about and he confessed that he was bored. ZBoy is 10. Not only is he 10, but he's a rather advanced 10 - he's been reading at a 9th grade level all through 4th grade. So this fairly basic stuff didn't hold his attention. I guess he's not really the intended audience because the rest of the kids were having a great time and were really into it.

Still, I feel like it was a worthwhile event and I'm glad I went. AND I'm glad I took Z.


Floridacracker said...

I remember the original show too

Neat to see it coming back.

Janis said...

I vaguely remember this show. I will have to look for it on pbs for my two younger grandkids.

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