Editor’s Note: The Early Learning Nation Studio recently attended the 2023 National Black Child Development Institute’s annual conference in Charlotte, NC. We had rich and illuminating conversations with early learning researchers, policymakers, advocates and practitioners of all ages. The full collection of video conversations can be found here.
Sesame Workshop’s Antonio Freitas and Melicia Whitt-Glover, Executive Director at the Council on Black Health, explain how to bring the Workshop’s Whole-Child Wellness resources to your town, and how powerful that impact can be.
Chris Riback: Melicia, Antonio, thank you so much for coming to the studio.
Antonio Freitas: Of course. Thank you for having us.
Melicia Whitt-Glover: Yes.
Chris Riback: So Antonio, let’s start. We all know, obviously the Sesame Street Show. We all love the Sesame Street Show. Outside of the show, what are the educational experiences that the Sesame Workshop focuses on?
Antonio Freitas: Yes, so Sesame Street has been for more than 50 years innovative in terms of tethering education to entertainment. And the way that we’ve been able to build beyond the television show is to extend it in both US and international spaces where education is a key way to engage everyone in the neighborhood.
Chris Riback: The heart of your presentation here at the conference is Whole-Child Wellness. What’s your message?
Antonio Freitas: Yes, we want children to know that the world around them can be a safe, fun place with caring grownups and friends to grow, to build smarter, stronger, kinder communities, one relationship at a time. And together with resources and people from around the United States, we’ve been able to bring these resources through those articles, storybooks or even games and videos to children and caregivers and providers across the US to know what that looks like.
Chris Riback: Melicia, the Council on Black Health, what is it and how do you connect with the Sesame Workshop?
Melicia Whitt-Glover: Sure. So we’re a national research and action network, and our focus is on improving health in black communities. And one of the ways that we can do that is looking at the social determinants or the things that impact health that are outside of just direct health, and one of those things is education. And so we’ve been excited to partner with Sesame Street to be able to distribute some of their health education materials that are focused on children and their parents as it relates to positive experiences, going to the doctor, healthy habits and things like that.
Chris Riback: And do you then work with the parents? Do you work with children? Do you work with educators? I imagine it’s a 360 situation.
Melicia Whitt-Glover: All of the above. So we distribute the materials to whoever we can get them to. So we did a couple of appearances at schools where we gave the books directly to children, but those books are designed for their parents to be able to read them to the children. And so in that way, you get the parents and children together. We’ve also, with training from Antonio, trained some care providers, including at childcare centers as well as health facilities and health centers to be able to distribute the books when they see patients and children.
Chris Riback: And Antonio, I went to the website, the page that has all of those resources. It’s incredible material.
Melicia Whitt-Glover: Thank you.
Chris Riback: What kind of feedback do you get from parents?
Melicia Whitt-Glover: Just that this is something that is needed. It is wanted, it is appreciated. We really trust guidance from experts like Melicia and her team to really get as implementation experts and partners in the field, this work out there in a way that is meaningful.
Chris Riback: So is there a feedback loop between the Sesame Workshop and the local organizations?
Antonio Freitas: Melicia and her team has been able to build up a Train The Trainer program where we’ve been able to guide them in the use of our resources and in recommended ways to share them with everyone in the neighborhood. And so we’ve been able to have feedback loops where we’ve learned what’s working, what’s not, and how to refine the craft so that everybody can benefit from it.
Chris Riback: Melicia, you’re out there locally doing the work every day. You’re really where the rubber meets the road, I would assume. What does it mean to have an organization like Sesame Workshop? The resources, the availability, and you tell me if I’m wrong, the open ear for feedback, positive or negative?
Melicia Whitt-Glover: Sesame Street Workshop has a huge name, and so it’s been incredibly helpful to have that partnership and to have the resources that we can disseminate. There’s already a known name, and so when people see Sesame Street, there’s a lot of credibility there. And then there are materials that we’re providing from a trusted source. But what’s been really exciting to people is when they are able to say, “Can we get this in different languages?” And Sesame Street has been very open in saying, “That’s a great point.”
And so it feels like we’re all in this together, all trying to improve the health of children. And when you’re all part of one team, people have ownership, that helps to spread the message.
Chris Riback: I know I’m stating the obvious, parenting is really hard work. And there is, in our formal institutions, not a lot of education on how to be a parent. What would be the most important thing you would want parents to know about whole-child wellness, about understanding what that means, about maybe even one or two tips of what parents could do because it’s hard work and too often the education opportunities aren’t there?
Melicia Whitt-Glover: Yes. I will say that speaking for myself personally as a parent, what has been a tip that I’ve been able to give myself is to remember when I was a child and what I felt and to be that parent or to be that person for my child that I wanted. And I’ve also learned that it is helpful for children to know that it’s okay to make mistakes. As a parent, I’m going to make mistakes. As a child, they’re going to make mistakes. Those things don’t define you, but that we will learn and grow together.
And I tell my children, “This is the first time I’ve ever been a parent.” Every time you do, “This is the first time you’ve done it. This is also the first time I’ve done it. We’re going to learn together.” And I think if more parents could just understand that they don’t have to be perfect. We might not get it right, but we keep trying every day. And if we can remember that what we needed as children, that’s the same thing that our children need, I think that could help.
Chris Riback: I am personally grateful for that permission to make mistakes. I seem to fulfill that expectation every day. Antonio, to close out, what’s next for Sesame Workshop?
Antonio Freitas: We have a whole lot of really fun projects that are coming along. We’re extending out our Emotional Well-Being initiative in a couple of different spaces and then exploring what the work can look like in both in-person and virtual settings. Really making sure that we prepare everyone in the neighborhood to build smarter, stronger, kinder kids, one relationship at a time.
Chris Riback: I lied. I have one more question.
Antonio Freitas: Ready. Ready.
Chris Riback: Other local organizations, they should go to your website, they should reach out to you to be able to access those resources?
Antonio Freitas: Yes. All of our resources live for free on sesame.org. There’s a wealth of different things, over 2,000 different topics across 30 different pages to provide resources for everyone in the neighborhood and the ways they like to learn and live.
Chris Riback: Thank you both for the work that you do. Thank you for coming to the studio.
Antonio Freitas: Thank you.
Melicia Whitt-Glover: Thank you.