Baldwin-Whitehall students lend skills to feature-length animated film |
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Baldwin-Whitehall fifth-graders Molly Gorman, left, and Ava Faust, center, showcase their animation to Janeen Peretin, director of information and instructional technology.

Ava Faust leapt from her chair in excitement. She couldn’t wait to read her lines aloud.

Writing, recording and animating a scene — and watching it come to life on the computer screen — was exhilarating for Ava, 10, who dreams of someday becoming an animator.

“This is motivating me to do it. They told me I have to take them all with me to Hollywood,” said the Paynter Elementary fifth-grader with a big smile as she ran over and hugged her teachers.

A small group of elementary and middle school students from the Baldwin-Whitehall, South Park and Northgate school districts had the opportunity to spend three days in early November learning how to use WonderGrove’s Story Maker animation software and equipment. They learned how to create a storyboard, write a script, record their voices and animate characters.

The Grable Foundation, under the direction of executive director Gregg Behr and fellows Bille Rondinelli and Bart Rocco, awarded the districts a combined $23,500 grant for the software, equipment, training and professional development to be used in their schools.

During the next several months, the districts will collaborate with Wonder Media and Terry Thoren, Wonder Media USA CEO, on a nationwide production of the first animated feature length movie ever to be produced by elementary and middle school students, known as “The WonderGrove Wizard of Oz.” There are 27 districts across the country participating.

Thoren is the former CEO of Klasky Csupo, Inc., the company that produced “Rugrats,” “The Wild Thornberrys” and “Rocket Power” for Nickelodeon and Paramount. For the past decade, he and his partners have been providing educators with animation solutions aimed at helping students realize their full potential and educating them across all media.

Districts across the country will each produce a sequence for the feature-length film, which will have a local premiere, Rocco said. There’s also talk of a possible showing in Hollywood.

The districts get to keep the equipment and software and integrate it into their classrooms.

At Baldwin-Whitehall, the equipment will be used in two fifth grade English language arts classrooms, where students will refine their skills in preparation for participation in the “Wizard of Oz” sequence, said Janeen Peretin, director of information and instructional technology.

The goal is to someday have the software and equipment utilized on a broader level across the region, Rocco said.

“It’s about more than technology,” Peretin said. “It’s truly starting with the application of the English language arts skills they’re learning in the classroom and instead of completing worksheets or papers, they’re actually creating a product, refining a product, learning technical skills, learning it’s OK to make mistakes and at the end, they get to see a finished product that looks pretty amazing.”

As they learned to use the software and equipment, the students created animated sequences about characters eating a healthy breakfast and playing a game of baseball.

“We did a lot of brainstorming,” Ava said.

She was excited to be able to learn how to animate by doing it herself.

Molly Gorman, 10, a fifth-grader at Whitehall Elementary, loved being able to create characters, write their lines, then record them in her own voice.

“It just shows them a different side of writing,” said Michelle Viola, Whitehall Elementary fifth grade teacher.

The teachers plan to share the lessons with the rest of their classes.

“Up until this point, the children heard ‘animation,’ but they didn’t know what that entailed,” said Natalie Basher, Paynter Elementary fifth grade teacher. “This brings more of a spark to writing. This is a way for them to really express themselves…. It’s another way to bring learning to a whole new level.”

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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