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The Legacy of Mr. Rogers In Tacoma’s Whole Child Virtual Expanded Learning

Filed Under: Expanded Learning - Posted @ 2:21pm

  • Jessica Smiley, ELO host for KBTC, prepares to greet students from in front of the virtual version of the trading post from Molly of Denali (photo via KBTC)

For more than 30 years Mister Rogers used his groundbreaking PBS television show to make a personal connection with millions of children.  Speaking directly into the camera, he invited his viewers to join him in learning new things, playing together, and reflecting on what it means to be a good “neighbor”. 

“Expanded Learning Opportunities have always provided a unique space for students to make connections with each other and with a caring adult.”

 Building on the foundation laid by Mister Rogers, local PBS affiliate KBTC is one partner in a pilot to develop online expanded learning opportunitiesA cohort of Tacoma Whole Child organizations have been working together to translate the in-person after school Expanded Learning Opportunities they have provided at local elementary schools for the past three years into an online program that will continue to help students stay connected beyond the school day.  

Wsee this as the next step in the legacy of Fred Rogers and how he was able to create an innovative way to show his care and value for young people, said DeAnne Hamilton, Executive Director & General Manager, KBTC.  

The pilot is developing interactive, virtual programs to help young people in Pierce County learn and grow. “Expanded Learning Opportunities have always provided a unique space for students to make connections with each other and with a caring adult,” said Fahren Johnson, GTCF Senior Program Officer. With everything that is going on right now we know our young people need that connection more than ever, so we’re figuring out what it looks like to create that space online.”  

Fred Rogers on the set of his show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood from the film, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Jim Judkis / Focus Features

For KBTC the formula will include a live host who will welcome each student into the digital learning space and invite them to participate in fun learning activities that focus on nature and culture. They will utilize clips from the popular PBS Kids animated series Molly of Denali, which follows the adventures of a 10-year old Alaska Native vlogger who lives in the fictional village of Qyah. The content of the show, and the curriculum that goes with it, were developed with the support of an advisory group of Alaska Natives and includes opportunities for students to play games, sing songs, and make crafts together.   

“I hope we can help kids feel good about themselves and know that they have a caring adult with them too.”

 Along with KBTC, Tacoma Arts LiveTacoma Art Museum, and Snapology will be piloting this new online Expanded Learning program with 3rd and 4th Grade students from the 12 Tacoma elementary schools where the on-site ELO programs had been taking place over the past few years.  GTCF’s Whole Child Teamalong with Site Directors from Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget SoundPeace Community Center and Tacoma Arts Live will be helping with coordination, family support, and ensuring the online programs still incorporate signature practices, like warm greetings, zone check-ins and community circles, that support students’ social emotional learning.  

Stacey Shumake, a 21st Century Learning Consultant helping develop the pilot, says that online learning works best when the instructors are very intentional about making individual connections with the learners.  “You have to be even more conscious about relationship building because of the space between you You have to check in on each learner more often and make sure they are staying with you. 

Although COVID-19 physical distance requirements spurred this online ELO pilot, the potential benefit of virtual programming may extend far beyond the pandemic. Seth Kirby, GTCF Vice President Community Impact, “Under COVID-19 conditions, all youth are facing barriers to expanded learning. However, we know that before COVID-19 youth in rural areas, youth with disabilities, youth experiencing homelessness and many other young people had barriers to accessing and enjoying the benefits of expanded learning. Taking this moment to build engaging and rewarding online experiences will help create more equitable access for all students while also deepening the long-term capacity of youth development organizations to serve kids across Pierce County.” 

DeAnne agrees that creating those connections between instructor and student is important, anshe believes that tapping into the example of Mr. Rogers can help. “I think he showed that warmth can come through a screenand I hope we can help kids feel good about themselves and know that they have a caring adult with them too.”  


The Tacoma Whole Child Partnership is a community-wide effort to ensure every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. Greater Tacoma Community Foundation, Tacoma Public Schools, and numerous community partners are working together to expand this partnership by providing aligned, equitable, high quality social, emotional, and academic development opportunities to students in and out of school.