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Welcome to Lomax, the Hound of Music, Sirius Thinking's new music education series for PBS!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 15, 2003
Contact Information:
Sue Rochman: 415-346-0414 or 415-290-8473
Sue.Rochman@earthlink.net
Amber Eden, NCLD: 212-545-7510, ext.218
aeden@ncld.org



National Center for Learning Disabilities
Launches New Interactive

Reading Game for Preschool Children

Cisco Foundation-Funded Program Features Gus the Bunny
From the Award-Winning ‘Between the Lions’


New York, NY—Gus, the famed rabbit of the PBS Emmy Award-winning show Between the Lions, has enchanted children and adults alike in his quest to learn to read. Now Gus is doing even more: He is the lead character in a new interactive game developed by the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD) and designed to help preschool children build the literacy skills they need to become successful readers.

All it takes is Internet access and a click of a mouse to join Gus and his friends in Gus and Inky’s Underwater Adventures, the first chapter in a series of interactive reading games. The free game is available on GetReadytoRead.org, the website for Get Ready to Read!—a national early literacy program developed by NCLD to ensure that all children are equipped with the fundamental skills necessary for learning to read. The program features an easy-to-use screening tool to assess a child’s reading readiness, as well as a series of related learning activities to further develop a child’s pre-reading skills.

The Gus and Inky interactive reading game was developed by NCLD in partnership with Sirius Thinking (www.siriusthinking.com) and Pileated Pictures (www.pileated.com), top line animators who previously worked with George Lucas on the Star Wars series. Pileated Pictures' Michael Levine and Jeffrey Yerkes designed the game and co-wrote the script with the creative team from NCLD and Sirius Thinking's Emmy-Award winning writers Christopher Cerf and Norman Stiles, Co-Creators and Executive Producers of Between the Lions.

“This new interactive game is the perfect next step in Gus’s work helping kids feel comfortable with reading,” said Cerf. “From the outset we have used his character not only to teach kids important literacy skills, but to help all children, including struggling readers, understand that learning to read may not be easy—in fact it’s anything but—yet it is one of the most exciting things they will ever do.”

NCLD believed Gus was the perfect character for an interactive literacy game because many kids already know that he is struggling to learn to read. In his appearances on Between the Lions, Gus has taught kids that it is okay to admit that they don’t know how to read, and he has shown children who can read how to help other kids who may be struggling.

In Gus and Inky’s Underwater Adventures, the first chapter of the game, Gus is joined by four new characters developed by NCLD specifically for this game. Gus’s new friends are Inky the Octopus, who demonstrates that there are many ways of learning; Stella the Starfish, who waves when children answer a question correctly; and Sharky the Shark, who gobbles up wrong answers with a toothy grin. Together these characters lead children (with the help of an adult) through a series of interactive games that teach them to identify letters, sounds, and rhyming words—the basic building blocks of reading. The game also is compatible with learning activity cards on GetReadytoRead.org that feature pictures of the characters. The cards are downloadable and are character- and color-coded to show three levels of pre-reading achievement: beginning, making progress, and ready to read.

NCLD was the original catalyst for and co-creator of the Gus puppet. As Between the Lions grew in popularity, NCLD believed both children and adults would benefit from a character that reflected and provided a role model for children with reading difficulties. The producers of Between the Lions, Sirius Thinking and the WGBH Educational Foundation, agreed, and Gus was introduced on the show in its second season, which began in April 2001.

Last year, Gus starred with Sigourney Weaver in a PSA produced by NCLD to generate awareness about the Get Ready to Read! program. The Gus and Inky interactive reading game marks the first time Gus has been transformed from a puppet into an animated character.

“NCLD decided to make early literacy a key priority because most children with learning disabilities have problems reading,” said NCLD Executive Director James H. Wendorf. “By offering free programs like Get Ready to Read! and the Gus interactive reading game, which are beneficial to all children, we can help parents and educators identify those children who are falling behind and intervene to provide them with the extra help they need to ensure that they become successful readers.”

The role Gus and Inky can play in helping children gain literacy skills before kindergarten or first grade has never been more important. Studies have found that if identified early and given research-based intervention, 90-95 percent of children at risk for reading failure will become fluent readers. But all too often this intervention doesn’t occur. This is one reason why reading failure has reached epidemic proportions. Currently in the United States:
• About 17% of children will not learn to read
• 25% of adults in the U.S. lack the basic literacy skills required for a typical job
• 2.7 million students with learning disabilities (primarily reading disabilities) receive special education services
• 27% of children with learning disabilities drop out of school—a rate twice that of their classmates
Cisco Systems, the worldwide leader in networking for the Internet, provided the funding that made possible the creation of the Gus and Inky interactive reading game.

“This interactive reading game gives children and their caregivers an opportunity to approach learning in a fun and positive way,” said Peter Tavernise, Executive Director of Cisco Systems Foundation. “Cisco is proud to have been able to support a project that uses Internet technology to have a broad impact in helping children learn to read.”

The next two chapters in the Gus interactive reading game will be completed by Spring 2004.

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Founded in 1977, the mission of NCLD is to increase opportunities for all individuals with learning disabilities to achieve their potential. NCLD increases public awareness and understanding of learning disabilities, conducts educational programs and services that promote research-based knowledge, and provides national leadership in shaping public policy. NCLD provides solutions that help people with LD participate fully in society.
Between the Lions
The six-time Emmy Award winning BETWEEN THE LIONS, produced by WGBH, Sirius Thinking, and Mississippi Public Broadcasting, has recently premiered ten exciting new episodes on PBS KIDS. Click here for details!
Awards!

Sirius Thinking, Ltd. has received multiple Emmy and Grammy awards. Click here for a full list of awards won by Between the Lions.
 
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