Thursday, October 30, 2014 · 11:56 a.m.

Where was Charlie? WTCI

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This weekend, WTCI transforms its station headquarters into an educational party epicenter. (Photo: Staff)

It may be hard to believe, but Clifford—the big red dog at PBS that has entertained generation after generation of children—is 50 years old.

WTCI, the Tennessee Valley’s PBS affiliate, is celebrating his birthday this weekend with a Saturday fete that offers both cupcakes and a glimpse at the larger, integrated, multimedia approach the TV station is taking to its mission of education and inspiration. 

From face painting to iPads
The weekend party will take place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and include face painting and Clifford-themed cupcakes, crafts and activities in the state-of-the-art studio at the station’s Bonnyshire Drive location.

The PBS Kids and PBS Kids Go! websites are educational extensions of familiar television shows. (Screenshot: Staff)

Children will also have the chance to watch new movies from their favorite PBS Kids characters. There will be a "Clifford the Big Red Dog" film, a "Wild Kratts" film and a "Dinosaur Train" film.

In addition, the Ready to Learn Room will be ground zero for more activities using the in-house iPad and Kindle collection. These devices serve as a continuation of the ongoing learning that is accessible 24-7 on the PBS Kids and PBS Kids Go! websites.

Chock-full of educational games, the digital platforms provide an avenue to teach math and reading literacy. Jennifer Crutchfield, director of public relations at WTCI, explained that online resources take the trust both kids and parents have in familiar characters like Arthur and Chuck Vanderchuck and put it to meaningful, educational use.

Kids connect with television shows they enjoy through games that test their knowledge of the nervous system’s parts or their ability to apply spatial reasoning and problem solving to a maze without ever groaning about having to learn something new.

The websites are compatible with iPads and, with the right app, iPhones. They hit subject matter that spans from kindergarten to college.

The next great American (children’s) novel
Meanwhile, in the boardroom, equipped with high-backed chairs, artwork and a spacious conference table, kids will get a jumpstart on a very special project: their submission for the PBS Kids Go! Writers Contest.

The local and national competition is a writing and illustration challenge that allows children in kindergarten and first, second and third grade the unique opportunity to contribute to the literary tradition. 

“The specific mission of WTCI is to educate, engage and inspire,” said Debbie Thompson, director of education and community engagement at WTCI. “This contest fits all three of those mission categories.”

The competition grew out of the "Reading Rainbow" writing contest that was rebranded as the PBS Kids Go! contest. The Tennessee Valley affiliate has participated in the national program, which is open to all local affiliates, for approximately 10 years.

Contestants follow story guideline that detail how many words and illustrations the author should meet according to his or her grade level. The program also provides parents with recommendations of how to help their children approach the project and prompts to get creative thoughts flowing.

“Children are natural storytellers, so the opportunity to help a child tell their story and illustrate their story and then share their story with an audience in a contest is really empowering,” Crutchfield said.

All submissions—Thompson said WTCI typically receives more than 800 each year—are due March 31. Then, members of the Chattanooga community who are involved in literacy efforts and writing who make up the judges panel review the stories according to criteria of creativity, plot, compliance with the guidelines and other requirements.

Submissions are graded on a points scale, and the judges make their final decisions after each judge makes the case for his or her recommendations. In past years, judges have included members of Make Create, Read 20, The Public Library and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga faculty.

The review process will take place in April, and local winners will be announced in May. Thompson noted that WTCI is still in the process of finalizing details for the awards ceremony. The station is looking to secure an appearance from one of the PBS Kids characters and will release the ceremony details at a later date.

All local winners are then submitted to the national-level competition. Last year, the Tennessee Valley kindergarten winner, Hannah Grace Hammontree from Cohutta, Ga., went on to win the national contest for her grade level. 

Her story, "The Elephant Ballerina," follows an elephant dancer as she prepares for a very special dance and then receives a medal for her performance. 

The Ready to Learn Room is fully stocked with books, globes and fun. (Photo: Staff)

Hammontree is actually one of three sisters, and her older sister, Harmony, won the first-place prize in the third-grade level for her story, “Candice Looks Inside.” 

In preparing for the PBS Kids Go! competition, Thompson remembered another story. One of the winner’s parents remarked that after her first-grader received his prize in the first-grade category, he was well on his way to finishing another story. 

The experience of being recognized for his writing had inspired him to continue and to create more.

“This has inspired him to do something beyond what he thought he could do,” Thompson said. “We love those stories from the parents—that it has inspired the kids to try not only this but also a whole host of other things.”

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