New director of Fred Rogers Center keeps an eye on kids television


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For Rick Fernandes, children’s television can be an opportunity to help families connect. Mr. Fernandes, 50, is the new director of the Fred Rogers Center at Saint Vincent College.

“It’s all a tool and can be a great tool if used properly,” said Mr. Fernandes, who started his new job in January.  “The question is what can you to to help kids become confident, competent, caring human beings? “

For nearly 50 years, starting in the 1950s, Fred Rogers created 895 episodes of ”Mister Roger’s Neighborhood“ at WQED studios in Oakland. The daily show aired nationally on PBS and became the vehicle for Fred Rogers’ message. 

In 2000, Mr. Rogers, who grew up in Latrobe, began to formulate the vision of an academic center for helping future generations manage the role of media in the lives of children. Having long family and personal ties to Saint Vincent College, Mr. Rogers found a home for an international center to bring together the brightest thinkers in early childhood development and children’s media.

The Fred Rogers Center was established at Saint Vincent College in Unity in September 2003, seven months after his death. It also serves as home to archive his show scripts, letters and other personal and professional items. The $14 million building for center officially opened in 2008 and the center sponsors a fellows program to encourage research, the creation of new screen media and new educational materials that use Mr. Rogers’ approach.

The work of the Fred Rogers Center is focused on the belief that there is a positive potential for television and new media to support the healthy social, emotional, cognitive and physical development of young children.

Saint Vincent president Brother Norman Hipps said an extensive search went into Mr. Fernandes’ selection to replace Rita Catalano, who retired at the end of 2013.

”We had a local and a national search committee ... we received a five-page letter from him that showed his passion and energy. He quoted Fred, who had said, ‘Often when you think you are at the end of something, you really are at the beginning of something else.”’

After a round of extensive interviews with the national committee, the Pittsburgh committee and the school staff and faculty, Mr. Fernandes, of New York City, was offered the job. 

“Rick’s background is not academic, but his passion and experience with a wide range of people in children’s television make him an ideal leader for the Fred Rogers Center,’’ Brother Hipps said.

Mr. Fernandes is a 30-year veteran of children’s television programming and production, whose career began with an apprenticeship on ”Sesame Street“ and includes 11 Emmy nominations covering five children’s series for PBS, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. He also won an Emmy for directing Disney Channel’s ”Bear in the Big Blue House.“ He most recently served as executive director, general entertainment content, in Southeast Asia for Turner International Asia Pacific Limited.

Mr. Fernandes said he understands the power and the role of television within a family not only in this country, but around the world. In his role at Turner International, he said, he has learned how other countries define the role of television their society.

“It varies from country to country. For example, Japan is very open, while in India they are trying to protect everyone. Yet what I learned is that people are the same everywhere. The world is smaller than most people realize; people have common ground. People everywhere are concerned with their families and their children whether it is New York, Hong Kong or Pittsburgh. It is one big ’neighborhood,’ that same common ground that Fred Rogers realized was in each of us.

“Anything you can do to help children or to educate children is a noble cause. I can’t think of anything I would rather do. I believe in what Fred Rogers stood for. Fred understood that deep and simple is better than shallow and complex,” he said.

Mr. Fernandes his wife and their two daughters, are relocating to Pittsburgh. 

Tim Means, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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