“Hero Elementary” is a new animated series that follows the adventures of a group of superhero kids attending school. Scheduled to debut on PBS KIDS on June 1, the superhero-powered STEM series was co-created by Carol-Lynn Parente, who previously executive produced “Sesame Street.” This show is designed to give kids ages 4-7 important problem-solving skills by encouraging them to think and act like scientists.
The show will include two bilingual Spanish/English speakers and superhero character on the autism spectrum, tying into the series’ mission of showcasing important social-emotional concepts such as kindness, empathy, and commitment to working together.
Carol-Lynn Parente, co-creator of “Hero Elementary,” recently granted an exclusive interview where she discussed the show.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in children’s media and how come you focus on children’s shows in particular?
Carol-Lynn Parente (CLP): I had the good fortune to start my career working at what was then called Children’s Television Workshop, with a desire to work in television in some capacity. Once I saw how much positive impact you can have creating educational media for children, I was hooked.
MM: How did you first break into the entertainment industry and how did you come to work with PBS?
CLP: I had a college internship at NBC in Rockefeller Center in NY and knew that I wanted to work in television, but no idea what I wanted to do. One of my first jobs was in the finance department at Children’s Television Workshop and I quickly found my way to the production side of things, starting at the very bottom and working my way up. It’s not an accident that I stayed in the PBS system with this new show, now working for Twin Cities Public Television. It is rare to find such a committed group of people concerned with making the world a better place for kids than at PBS.
MM: How did you come up with the premise of “Hero Elementary” and what drove the decision to feature a character with autism?
CLP: The Ready to Learn grant project was inspired by a book called SUPERHERO SCHOOL. Working with my co-creator, Christine Ferraro, we were tasked with building a hero universe that could teach science in a fun way. We didn’t set out to have a character on the autism spectrum. Both of us had worked on creating and introducing a character on the spectrum for “Sesame Street.” Fresh off of that experience, we felt this character in our show, AJ GADGETS, could be on the spectrum. We thought it would be really powerful to have a main character with autism, and to model the acceptance of his friends to AJ doing things a little differently and being a superhero to boot.
MM: You also include two bilingual characters; was it fun to interject Spanish phrases into the show?
CLP: “Hero Elementary” is a school in an urban neighborhood and it was important for us to be authentic about representing the diversity found in an urban school. We were thoughtful in scripting about making the use of Spanish organic and regularly relied on both advisors and our vocal talent to help tweak the dialogue to achieve that.
MM: What’s your favorite thing about “Hero Elementary” and which episodes really stand out to you? Why?
CLP: What I love most about “Hero Elementary” is the Superpowers of Science! To crack this show, we had to find the intersection of superheroes and scientists…and that was problem solving. Superheroes are trying to solve problems and so are scientists…and we have access to the superpowers to help us do that…the Superpowers of Science. Each episode that rolls off the production line is more fun than the last one. I love them all!
MM: What are your ultimate goals for the future and is there anything else that you would like to mention?
CLP: My goals for the future are to live life with the enthusiasm of our “Hero Elementary” teacher, Mr. Sparks. He delights in failure because he knows that’s how we learn from our mistakes. And what better gift can you give kids (and adults) than to encourage them to action, to be fearless and confident.
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To learn more about “Hero Elementary,” visit its official page on PBS KIDS: https://pbskids.org/heroelementary