Nine PBS: ‘Programs Should Represent All Kids’

Most of us probably grew up with the educational programming on PBS. “We’re known as America’s largest classroom, available to all children and focused on preparing them for success in school,” says Angela Carr, Vice President and Chief Impact Officer for Nine PBS, the St. Louis PBS station. Part of that commitment, she says, is ensuring that programs resonate with all children. “Over the years, we’ve heard from our partners about how PBS Kids doesn’t look like their kids, so we’ve thought very seriously about how to address the lack of Black and brown children represented on Nine PBS.” The result is a new multimedia initiative, Drawn In, launched this year in partnership with Lion Forge Animation.

Among the nation’s first kids’ initiative to feature African Americans as lead characters in public media, Drawn In is a comic book series linked to digital content, including animated video shorts, and based on four fictional Midwestern kids (voiced by local talent) who must use problem-solving and literacy skills to “save the day” in each adventure. “We are so excited to see this vision come to life and about the authenticity of the project,” says Carr. Lion Forge is a Black-owned, St. Louis-based animation studio, and the content of the series is co-developed with an advisory board made up of local parents, educators and community leaders. “They keep us in check on whether the content genuinely represents the Black and brown community, and if it lands on the curriculum level.”

Photo: Nine PBS

Drawn In is targeted to kids 6 to 8 years old, a critical time when learning to read transitions to reading to learn, says Carr. “The ripple effects of not reading proficiently by the third grade are significant and, in parts of our city and county, only 9-10% of third graders are testing proficient in reading,” she says. “It shouldn’t matter your zip code; all kids deserve to thrive. We are hoping to impact literacy numbers by drawing in kids through positive stories that represent them and spark a greater interest in reading.”

Drawn in to the idea, YouthBridge recently awarded Nine PBS a $75,000 Think Big for Kids grant to support the Drawn In initiative. “We are so excited to build on this partnership with YouthBridge,” says Carr. “We can’t do it alone and need others aligned around the mission to fulfill the vision.” Carr says the grant will go towards creating more content for the series and helping with its delivery, which eventually will include on-air programming.

So far, over 190,000 printed comic books have been distributed, through placement in the St. Louis American, schools and other partners, and family-community learning events known as Power Hours. During these eight-week sessions held at local libraries, families and kids eat meals and read together, learn about how comic books are made and develop their own story. Each child walks away with the comic books and a digital device.

“There are so many layers of benefit with this initiative,” says Carr. “Families are spending time together and engaged in the learning process, educators have new and fun curriculum to share, and as one teacher put it, ‘my kids are inspired to read.’”