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Knollwood School Contest Winners Create Animated Cartoon to Promote Community Service

Credit: Fair Haven School District
Credit: Fair Haven School District
Technically it was lunchtime, but there was no time for a leisurely meal as the seven writers/directors/designers/producers munched on their bagged sandwiches and snacks in the film studio. They worked furiously to create a background design and double-check their characters' scripted lines in preparation for a visit to the sound booth for a voice recording.

This scene did not take place in Hollywood as you might expect but in Fair Haven, as a group of fifth-graders from Knollwood School worked to produce an animated cartoon at Small Factory Productions.

The seven -- Jack Cusick, Madeline DelVecchio, Sarah Dolan, Michael Mazzucca, Connor Medrow, Evan Quon, and Emma Walker -- had succeeded in a challenge offered as part of the Fair Haven School District's Exploratory Investigations Program.

Any fifth graders who wished to participate were recently given the opportunity to create a "pitch" for an animated cartoon based on a given topic. Six groups of five to seven students each were provided with a proposed budget and the topic of "Inspiring Volunteerism and Community Service." Within a six-week period, the students created presentations including a central idea, a partial script, and a description of the characters.

Each group then delivered a marketing pitch to the "Executive Producers" panel, consisting of Fair Haven School District Superintendent Nelson Ribon, Director of Curriculum and Instruction Ellen Spears, and Supervisor of Instructional Programs and Support Marion Carolan.

The winning group, which presented the pitch for a cartoon titled "Community Counts", was given two weeks to finalize the script, fully create their characters, and design backdrops.

Their visit to Small Factory Productions marked an important step in the process, as the students created and recorded an original theme song. While at the studio, they also recorded the scripted lines for the characters they had created.

"Community Counts" tells the story of a community service contest held at the fictional Collwood School. Six students compete for a trophy by performing tasks such as walking and feeding dogs at an animal shelter, serving dinner at a soup kitchen, organizing a bake sale to benefit a homeless shelter, collecting clothing for victims of the typhoon in the Philippines, cleaning up trash, and shoveling snow from the driveways of the elderly and those with disabilities.

At the cartoon's conclusion, the Collwood teachers judging the contest are so impressed by each of the charitable acts that they simply cannot decide on one winner. As a result, each of the students receives a trophy from School Principal Mr. Zuzu. The service-minded students then decide to donate each of the trophies to their respective causes.

"Remember that you are acting, but with your voice," Small Factory Productions Curriculum Coordinator Jennie Lucci advised Jack Cusick as he prepared to record his lines for the character of Mr. Zuzu.

Other students lending a voice to their characters that day were Madeline DelVecchio as Samantha (Sam), Sarah Dolan as Biff Spiffman, Michael Mazzucca as Linguini, Connor Medrow as Joe, Evan Quon as Steve, and Emma Walker as Fluffy Gonzales.

"This is a valuable learning experience for the students, as it meshes with the curriculum from the technology, literacy, and art perspectives," said Lucci. "It is also a great opportunity for all of the participants to create something they truly believe in and present it to a panel."

Past topics for this yearly challenge have included Character Virtues and Anti-Bullying.

Once completed, the animated cartoon "Community Counts" will be shown to fourth and fifth grade students at Knollwood School.

Each of the students in the winning group will also receive a disk containing the animated cartoon and the original song.

"This program is always so much fun for the students as they collaborate, create, and see their stories come to life," said Carolan, who supervised the event.


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