Fred Rogers' ideas celebrated at conference, museum events

Conference, special events mark TV pioneer's legacy

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The late Fred Rogers' philosophy of how to reach young children through the media dates to the early days of television in the 1950s.

Now the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at St. Vincent College in Latrobe will help to propel his ideas into the future with its first Fred Forward Conference at the center, which has activities beginning this weekend.

Maxwell King, center co-director, said Mr. Rogers was on the cutting edge of technology, using television to provide high-quality programming to help children and families, including the show, "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood."

"There's this explosion of communications technology and new media today," said Mr. King.

"There are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people out there who share the same kind of interests Fred Rogers had. They care about education. They care about children. And they're attracted to these new technologies."

Mr. Rogers died in 2003, and the center was established later that year.

About 150 people are expected to attend the formal, invitation-only conference -- with the theme of "Creative Curiosity, New Media and Learning" -- at the college on Monday and Tuesday.

In addition, there are public events focusing on Mr. Rogers today, Saturday and Sunday in Pittsburgh.

Admission to the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh will be free from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today for its eighth annual celebration of Mr. Rogers' life, an event not connected to the Fred Forward Conference.

From noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, as part of the conference, the museum will host a Fred Forward Innovation Showcase highlighting how technology is being developed in the region to help education. Museum admission will be charged.

A list of museum activities for all three days can be found at www.pittsburghkids.org.

In addition, Carnegie Mellon University's Entertainment Technology Center in the Pittsburgh Technology Center will host an Innovation Showcase open to the public from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, focusing on gaming and projects under development there combining education and entertainment.

The conference will welcome national leaders in education, research, technology, policy and children's media.

Keynoter Milton Chen, senior fellow of The George Lucas Educational Foundation, will talk about the leading edges of innovation in education, which is the theme of a book he is writing.

He said creators and users face the same questions as when Mr. Rogers was at work, but media have expanded.

"Trying to find the appropriate use of this is even more of a challenge now than it was then. There are so many different offerings, different uses of technology," Dr. Chen said.

David Kleeman, president of the American Center for Children and Media, will help lead a session at which groups of participants will create and pitch new media ideas for building emotional literacy in preschoolers. Emotional literacy is the ability to recognize the feelings of yourself and others.

"Fred Rogers did that brilliantly," Mr. Kleeman said. "We'll lead the sessions with a set of quotes from Fred about his own feelings about the ability to understand others."

Mr. Kleeman is glad the conference will help to keep Mr. Rogers' ideas alive.

"I think that there's a legacy to what Fred Rogers did that we all need to remember," he said. "As the programs are less seen ... what we need to keep is the core of what he believed about the important role of media."


Education writer Eleanor Chute: echute@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1955.


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