October FableFriday: Chris Jackson, Chief Communications Officer, Big Picture Learning

When it comes to putting the “big,” in Big Picture Learning, Chief Communications Officer Chris Jackson believes that the message speaks for itself: “sometimes it can be as easy as pointing a camera and hearing our students tell the story of their own experience.”

For over 20 years, Big Picture Learning (BPL) has worked to reimagine the way students learn. Through BPL design elements, students are encouraged to create their own learning path, collaborating in small advisor-led learning communities and working with mentors at community-based internships. The yield is an inspired approach to learning that drives students towards achieving their own vision of success.

“Take Taliq, who recently spoke at the Business Innovation Factory’s annual storytelling summit. Or Rhianna, who tells her Big Picture story not through words, but through music,” Chris muses. “Take any Big Picture student and one will quickly see how an individualized approach to teaching and learning not only helps learners thrive, but also makes my job as a Communications Officer as easy as giving these students a platform to inspire.”

One of BPL’s biggest advocates, Chris embodies its mission of curiosity, vision, and drive. We caught up with him to learn more about his journey towards innovative education, his contagious love of learning, and his must-read list!


Big Picture Learning was established in 1995 with the sole mission of putting students directly at the center of their own learning. Tell us more about how BPL seeks to accomplish this goal.
It’s simpler than you might expect: ask students what they’re interested in learning about, then teach them that. Students aren’t used to being asked what they want to learn – or having their own personal interests and ambitions embraced by educators – so there’s a level of trust building that is necessary at the beginning. But once students realize that they are surrounded by peers, advisors, and a community that loves and supports them, their world opens up. They see that learning can happen anywhere, at any place, at any time. They find that they can more truly navigate their own path, not only through school but through life.

There are over 65 Big Picture network schools in the United States and around the world. What is the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center (“The Met”) and how is it unique?
The Met was the first Big Picture Learning school, before there was a Big Picture Learning! Over 20 years ago, the state of Rhode Island tasked Elliot Washor and Dennis Littky with coming up with a bold new school design that, in its very existence, would require a reexamining of the education system. From that work, the Met was born. The Met is a campus of six high schools across the state of Rhode Island, though most of them are in a central location in Providence. Known as much for its open architecture as it is for its innovative approach to learning (for instance, students spend two days of each week not at school but at internships in the community) it’s hard to truly describe the Met in words! That’s why we welcome visitors to the Met several times a year to see the school for themselves. Readers of this blog are welcome to attend!


How did BPL come to cross paths with FableVision Studios?
We’ve been fans of Peter and Paul Reynolds’ for some time. I actually first saw Paul speak at a conference when I was working for Reading Is Fundamental and regularly read Peter’s books to my children during nighttime storytelling. But it was one of our founders, Elliot Washor, who struck up a friendship with Peter and Paul not too long ago. FableVision’s work speaks for itself, but for Big Picture Learning, relationships matter most. The FableVision team took the time to get to know us (even visited the Met and met with students and advisors!). When it was clear that FableVision’s team shared our values when it comes to creativity and education, the rest was essentially a no-brainer.

How does BPL provide students with structure in such a highly personalized environment?
There’s a common misconception that letting students direct their own learning leads away from structure and toward chaos. Student-centered learning can’t proceed without a path. It’s just that in our schools, students design that path with guidance from their advisors, their parents, and their peers. By creating and directing their own paths – via a personalized learning plan – students have ownership in the learning process, and are much more able to learn from failures and champion their own successes. There are boundaries, for sure, but they’re not the artificial kind like, say, a school bell or homeroom period.


Tell us about how ImBlaze helps educators and administers enable the place-based learning from internships that BPL so believes in.
Big Picture Learning knows the importance of getting students out into the community to learn from mentors and experts. During our two decades of existence, technology has advanced in such a way creating those connections is much easier. Imagine a time in, say, 1997, when BPL advisors had to track internship opportunities through post-it notes stuck to their computer screens. Ten years later they’d moved to excel spreadsheets. We now have ImBlaze, a mobile app created by Big Picture Learning, that helps students and advisors intuitively search for internships in their local communities. And, as with other initiatives, we have FableVision to thank for helping bring the story of ImBlaze to life through animation!

BPL recently announced the new Harbor Freight Fellows Initiative (HFFI) in an effort to broaden our collective understanding of what it takes to properly invest in skilled trades education. What’s the genesis story of this new program?
The genesis goes right back to student interests. The presumed track for many high school students post-gradation is that they’ll proceed right onto college, most of them in pursuit of a liberal arts or business degree. That’s a valued extension of learning, and was the path I myself followed. But it’s not necessarily the path all students long for.

The focus of the Harbor Freight Fellows Initiative is to raise up the trades path as a lofty educational aspiration, one which is perfectly in-line with the interests and passions of many students, not just Big Picture students. We want to ensure that students who pursue trades-based paths following high school have the resources and relationships that will inspire them to continue following their passions. We’ve produced an animation with FableVision, Navigating Our Way, that eloquently explains this through the story of two lifelong friends, Sylvie and Seymour, who follow separate paths (college and the trades). Stay tuned for our official release! 

BPL hosts a Leadership Conference and the Big Bang Conference every year. What is special about these conferences?
We design our conferences to mimic our educational practices. Attendees participate in our convenings as part of an advisory – a group that they return to multiple times throughout the conference to reframe and expand upon their learning. Further, a core component of our conferences is that attendees “leave to learn.” In our network schools, you’ll find that much of the learning happens outside of the walls of the classroom.  To mirror this, an entire day of our conferences is spent in the community, learning from organizations within the host city.  Of course, most important for us is that students are at the center of our conferences; not just in theory, but in practice. For us, it is essential that students themselves play a key role; not just as attendees, but as designers, presenters, and leaders. Over the last two years close to 100 students from across the Big Picture network have been present at Big Bang – our international conference on student-centered learning.

Students from BPL meeting with Sir Ken Robinson

Students from BPL meeting with Sir Ken Robinson

If you could do it over and be a BPL student, how would you structure your education?
I think less about what I would be like as a BPL student as I do about what it would be like to be a teacher in a BPL school. I have a teaching degree that I’ve never used because my student-teaching experience was uninspiring. As a result, I’ve followed other paths through life. But if I had known that schools like those in the Big Picture Learning network had existed, I suspect I would have remained in the teaching profession. I must say, I’m grateful that my path through life has still wound its way back toward progressive, inspiring, and imaginative schools. I regret that I don’t have the opportunity to work with students every day, but I am pleased that I’m part of a national conversation about what education can and should look like moving forward.

It’s no secret that you’re a big fan of books and stories, can you share any reads that we should catch up on?
What a terrific question! Let’s start way back and move up to the present:

  • My all time favorite book is In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak. Many people think of Where the Wild Things Are when they think of Sendak, but I remember being struck by the absurdity of In the Night Kitchen at an early age. It’s a book so important to me that I have a print commemorating it on my office wall!
  • For fiction, the book I could never put down was The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.
  • I’m a sucker for American historical nonfiction and have been plodding my way through the biographies of each United States president. I’m currently up to Martin Van Buren (so naturally, I’m taking a break!).
  • I love a good graphic novel. Check out Unflattening by Nick Sousanis for an academic deconstruction of graphic novels told, naturally, in graphic novel form!
  • Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t strongly recommend The Big Picture and Leaving to Learn from my education idols and Big Picture Learning founders Dennis Littky and Elliot Washor!



How I Made My Mark: Marc Colagiovanni Reflects on Dot Day 2017

In life, I believe there are no such things as coincidences. I am also a firm believer in the old adage, “everything happens for a reason.” I have been an attorney in the State of Rhode Island for sixteen years. I am honored to be a part of this profession and I enjoy the practice of law. However, over the last several years, the creative side of my brain has been daring me to try! Try! Try! In 2010, it was this voice that urged me to finally pursue my goal of becoming a published children’s book author. The published piece of that goal is something I’m working towards and in the meantime, I am very proud of the stories I have written. I am even more proud of the example I have been setting for my children as they witness the joy I’ve received in my practice of putting pen to paper.

My “make your mark” moment came in December 2016 when I dared myself to animate one of my stories. I took a leap of faith and when I landed, I was standing next to FableVision Studios and Peter H. Reynolds.

My Aunt Marcia has lived in Dedham, Massachusetts for over twenty years, and has visited Dedham Square hundreds of times—never once noticing Peter’s wonderful little bookstore, The Blue Bunny. In December 2015, I won a holiday writing contest held by The Providence Journal, a local newspaper in Providence, RI. As Aunt Marcia strolled through Dedham Square that December with my writing victory fresh on her mind, she looked up and, for the first time, noticed Peter’s store. As fate would have it, Peter was in the store that day. Armed with the knowledge of my love for writing, my aunt introduced herself and boldly asked Peter if he would meet me. Peter graciously invited us to attend The Mass Book Awards. On January 10, 2016, I attended the event and met Peter. We spoke for no more than two minutes, but as the conversation ended Peter shook my hand and said, “Make your mark.”

On my drive home that night, I decided to do just that. I gathered my courage and emailed Peter a story I had been working on, The Reflection in Me. Fortunately, Peter loved my story and provided me with some terrific editing suggestions. It was not until months later in December 2016 that I once again emailed Peter. I inquired as to whether or not his studio, FableVision, animated projects for the general public; Peter responded in the affirmative. The following month, I emailed The Reflection in Me to FableVision.

Marc with his wife, Lauren. 

Marc with his wife, Lauren. 

The story for The Reflection in Me was inspired by my family. My wife of eleven years, Lauren, and our three children, seven-year-old, Addison, and four-year-old twins, Ella and Mia, are the single most important things in my life. I often refer to my daughters as “beautiful chaos” and it befits them perfectly. One day, as I was watching my girls dance, sing, and laugh in front of the full length mirror in my home, I realized how incredibly different the experience in front of a mirror is for adults. As adults, we seek out mirrors to correct our perceived imperfections. We fix our hair, check our teeth, and tug at our clothes. But for children, they don’t fix a thing. They look at their reflection and they see perfection! I suddenly became sad as I realized that my girls, too, will someday look in the mirror and try to “fix” something. At that very moment, The Refection in Me popped into my head. As I contemplated that dreadful day when the dancing, singing, and laughing would end, I quietly prayed that my girls would always find a way to see themselves as I forever will…perfectly perfect.

I was familiar with Peter’s film I’m Here, so I was confident that his studio could bring my story to life. My confidence, however, grew exponentially when I received an email from Peter offering to be the executive producer on my film. I was ready to make my mark!

I first met the FableVision team on February 16, 2017 at FableVision Studios in Boston, Massachusetts. In attendance were Sarah Ditkoff (Marketing and Client Services Manager), Bob Flynn (Director of Art and Animation), Leigh Hallisey (Creative Director and Head Writer), Mikaela Johnson (Production Assistant), and Peter Stidwill (Senior Producer). And sitting to my right…Peter H. Reynolds! To say I was nervous would be an understatement. But my nerves quickly disappeared as I witnessed the genuine excitement this talented group of people had for my little story. From that meeting on, and over the next four months, I had the most enjoyable creative experience of my life. From the initial illustrations to the storyboard to the final film, I found the entire process fascinating. And I was equally fascinated by the people involved in the process.

Peter and Mikaela were my main points of contact throughout production. Not only were they passionate about the film, they truly understood how personal a story is to the person who wrote it. They allowed me to share my vision and ideas, but at the same time they were able to objectively move the film in a direction that allowed it to reach its full potential. I thoroughly enjoyed working and collaborating with these talented individuals.

Didi Hatcher was the animator on the film. I was amazed by the manner in which she interpreted the story. I wrote this story with the intent of creating something very simple, but with a powerful message. As such, Didi had the difficult task of creating emotion in a very basic setting; every scene is just the character and the mirror. Therefore, in order to evoke the true emotion of the story, the movements of the character had to be subtle yet meaningful. Every movement from the raise of an eyebrow to a clasp of the hands to a shrug of the shoulders was done brilliantly thanks to Didi’s expert eye and hands.

The narration was performed by the talented Candace Kozak. I was afforded the opportunity to sit in on the taping of her recording session. I was amazed by Candace’s ability to interpret the mood of the story so perfectly. This script is challenging in that it, technically, consists of three different characters: the character, the reflection, and the narrator. Candace, however, was able to deliver the lines in a way that differentiated between all three. The combination of Candace’s performance coupled with the richness in her voice truly conveyed the emotion of the story.

Peter Stidwill and Mikaela were able to locate the perfect musical composer for this film, David Nyman. I, admittedly, was concerned about this process because a musical score can make or break the emotion of a scene. But my concerns disappeared instantly upon hearing the first note – it was a homerun. I was extremely humbled by David’s talent and musical interpretation of the story.

While I truly enjoyed every aspect of this project, what mattered most to me was having Peter Reynolds’ signature illustrations as the face of this film. The moment I saw his initial sketches of the character, I instantly felt the emotion that embodies all of Peter’s stories. His role as executive producer made my story come to life. He was able to convey my vision perfectly and in many ways, better than I ever could have imagined. But my absolute favorite part of this entire journey was when Peter read my story aloud during the project kickoff to get the team’s creative juices flowing. Hearing this successful individual read something that I had written validated my decision to reach out to Peter and FableVision, and truly “make my mark.” It confirmed to me that this film was going to be special. And it is special. To me, it is perfectly perfect!


International Dot Day is a global celebration of creativity, courage, and collaboration. Personally, this special day embodies not only my journey with The Reflection in Me, but the creative journey I have been on throughout my entire life. Trying to succeed in the arts is a difficult task. Whether you are a musician, actor, writer, or painter, your work is always evaluated under a subjective microscope.

In Peter's book, The Dot, Vashti proclaims, “I just can’t draw!” and it is a feeling of self-doubt that resonates within all of us. But the secret to overcoming self-doubt, as taught by Vashti’s teacher, is to take a strong jab and shout, “There!” As I raise my children, I will impress upon them that success is not always measured by whether or not a goal is accomplished, but rather by the amount of courage and perseverance put forth into the effort. I will always be the voice inside their heads daring them to try! Try! Try! And to those of you reading this post, I dare you to “make a mark and see where it takes you.”

Join FableVision and me on September 15 to celebrate Dot Day. Catch Peter's TVOKids appearance on the LIVE afternoon block of The Space and don’t miss the live-stream where renowned illustrators from the world of children’s literature will be LIVE drawing to inspire everyone to take a chance and make their mark!

Want to see The Reflection in Me on the big screen?

Marc at the 5th Annual Skyline Indie Film Fest where The Reflection in Me was an official festival selection. 

Catch the film at these festivals:

20th Auburn International Film Festival for Children and Young Adults
When: September 18-22
Where: Sydney, Australia

Mill Valley Film Festival
When: October 5-15
Where: San Rafael, California





FableVision’s Digital Backpack!

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New clothes, crisp notebook pages waiting to be written in, the smell of freshly sharpened pencils. There’s nothing quite like the excitement of going back to school. The start of school promises a fresh set of opportunities to either keep on track or think about ways to do things differently.

Here at FableVision, we’re gearing up for the back-to-school season with our own list of must-have tools for new-year success. From the top techie to the new old schoolers, this list has something for everyone! What’s on your must-have list this fall?

For the Task Keepers

Unabashedly into organizing information, you need just the right digital tools
and management systems to keep you on-track from deadline to deliverable.


Mitul Daiyan, Marketing Coordinator
Trello is a project management tool that helps me track the various projects on my plate. This is just the right app for people like me who prefer to have a digital checklist of their tasks that they can access from anywhere. I use it at FableVision for events I’m managing and for my personal life with boards for meals I’m prepping for the week! I can add due dates and team members to different cards for collaborative work. I can't cheer about Trello enough, I use it in tandem with Gmail Tasks and I’m ready to tackle every week.


Brian Grossman, Technical Director
Everything I have in my life, I owe to my task list. Without it, I wouldn’t get anything done. I have a surprisingly bad memory and as a result, I have trained myself to write everything down in a task list — everything. I am currently using an app called Wunderlist as my task list. It allows me to keep multiple lists, assign due dates, and synchronize them between my computer and phone. I find it to be just the right amount of functionality for my needs. What about spontaneity? How about doing something fun that’s not on the list? I couldn’t agree more… I guess that why I never finish everything on my list.

For the Nifty DIY-ers

There’s nothing more satisfying than using something you made with your own hands.


DIY Pencil Case
Jordan Bach, Senior Developer
Making your own pencil case is the perfect way to counter the end-of-summer blues. Hand make a little pouch using your favorite fabrics and add a matching or non-matching zipper. Use it to carry around your pencils, colored pencils, markers, and maybe even a little notepad or an iPad Pencil. When life gets hectic, you can write or sketch it out. And you'll have a pleasing reminder of your creative side. Here are some ideas to help you get started!

For the Pro-gamers and Programmers

Gaming is serious business and you can’t wait to help others gamify their projects to get their noggins ticking!

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Game Design Toolkit
Peter Stidwill, Senior Producer
FableVision Studios and Learning Games Network (LGN) partnered to create the Game Design Tool Kit (GDTK), a free online resource designed to help teachers incorporate game design strategies in their curriculum. This comprehensive handbook is offered at no cost for educators and includes a lesson plan guide, research and design prompts, step-by-step instructions, and discussion guides.


Margarita Dekoli, Senior Developer
Scratch is a free programming language and online community where kids can create their own interactive stories, games, and animations. Learners are able to explore, tinker, or play with different parameters and permutations. By allowing kids to write their own code, you allow them to explore what they are building and to refine their thinking over time through experimentation and tweaks. Plus it’s really accessible and fun!

For the Top Techie

You get misty eyed thinking about your old Trapper Keeper
and you’re big on new gadgets with that old-school cool.


iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, and Moleskine App
Leigh Hallisey, Creative Director
There are few thing in life that make me happier than new school supplies. I loved them as a child, and I’m so happy that having a kid gives me an excuse to enjoy the start of the year at least nine more times. My favorite BTS bundle this year is an iPad Pro, Apple Pencil, and Moleskine App. The Moleskine App allows me to choose from multiple styles of paper notes, sketches, and storyboarding. I use my Apple Pencil for digital notetaking and sketches. I love having all of my stuff in one place. (Not Lisa Frank folders and smencils love, but close.)


Wacom Cintiq/Companion Portable Tablet
Keith Zulawnik, Lead Artist
One thing that has been super beneficial to my work has been using a Wacom Cintiq Companion. I've been using an Intuos for years and wanted to switch over to a Cintiq but always felt they were a bit unwieldy on the desk. Wacom released the mobile version a few years ago (the Companion) and I've been hooked ever since! You can't beat being able to work anywhere; it makes drawing digitally feel more natural, like a sketchbook. I get to work on the train, and most importantly, not be locked down to my desk all the time. The past month I actually switched over to their newest model, which has been rebranded from the Companion to the Mobile Studio Pro. It's really an amazing machine. If you’re looking for an alternative then the Apple iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil or the Microsoft Surface Pro are great options. Keep in mind that the iPad does not offer full versions of some software including Photoshop, but you can download an app called Procreate which is an excellent alternative.

For the New Old Schoolers

You favor the analog way of documenting and make no apologies for
your love of physical lists, notebooks, and shiny office supplies!

Bullet Journaling
Sarah Ditkoff, Marketing and Client Services Manager
I've always used a combination of my digital work calendar and written lists to stay organized. Bullet journaling is a customizable analog system that's gotten pretty trendy over the last couple years. I recently started using a simplified version of the logging system in a grid-style Moleskine. On the left page, I map out my week to help prioritize tasks: meetings, important deadlines, and larger announcements or deliverables. On the right, I "bucket" my tasks into categories that change depending on what I'm working on. Right now, I'm organizing on-ramping tasks for our new marketing interns and planning workflows for upcoming events this fall. Brightly colored sticky-notes let me add informal reminders for myself.

David Welsh, Marketing Intern
I like to keep organized in a notebook, so I’ve adopted some ideas from bullet journaling. I like the Moleskine Professional notebooks because each page is segmented into three areas. I keep the current day’s tasks at top, future tasks along the side, and use the body for lengthier notes and thoughts. With the start of the new semester, I need notebooks for writing, schoolwork, and my internship here at FableVision. I found a budget spiral bound notebook at Target (a medium Miquelrius Hemisphere) that is separated into four color-coded sections. I use blue for my calendar, red for FableVision, gray for school, and green for everything else. There is no substitute for dependable pen and paper.


MUJI, Tea, and Totes
Samantha Bissonnette, Producer
Although most of my work is digital, my physical tools are just as important in keeping me organized! Like Sarah and David, I love my trusty Moleskine notebook. I also love the notebooks and stationery at MUJI — they have tons of classic lightweight notebooks and fun stamps too! In addition to my notebooks, I like to have one trusty bag that’s large enough for me to carry everything I need, but small enough that it won’t weigh me down when I ride my bike or take the T. This leather bag is the perfect fit! And although my little tea infuser shown here broke, I love loose leaf tea, so a fun tea infuser will be the best addition to my work space.



September FableFriday: Sam Bissonnette, Producer


Samantha “Sam” Bissonnette is holding educational media to a high standard – and it’s an interactive one. The newest producer at the studio, Sam is no stranger to FableVision, having spent time honing her skills as a 2013 intern in our marketing department. Since then, Sam has ventured deeper into media production, managing streaming content on the digital team at PBS KIDS, working as a production assistant on shows like WordGirl and Astroblast!, and consulting with Sesame Workshop on innovating in the early education field. After graduating from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education (HGSE), Sam returns to FableVision armed with a renewed passion for producing educational media. Among other things, she’s constantly thinking about how our favorite properties positively impact our lives – no matter your age.

“I’m really excited about interactive experiences through streaming media. Specifically, there’s a lot of conversation that says TV is a passive experience, and I disagree – the best shows and stories start conversation and action,” Sam shares. “People feel moved to make fan art, express their thoughts about characters online, or host viewing parties. I’m really excited to be able to think about harnessing this excitement at FableVision Studios and make it easier for people to interact with media, especially in an educational space.”

Pull up a chair and get to know Sam’s thoughts on personalized learning, rich production past, and her enthusiastic love for food, Pokémon, and a certain BIG puppy in this month’s FableFriday.

Sam, tell us about your journey to FableVision story!
My journey (back!) to FableVision started after my internship with the marketing team here in 2013. Inspired to continue working in the edtech industry, I worked several different jobs in the children’s media space and finished graduate school. I heard there was a job opening at FableVision Studios so I interviewed with Executive Producer Karen Bresnahan and Senior Producer Peter Stidwill. Before I knew it, I was welcomed back into the FableVision team!


The role of producer is often mysterious as they’re creatively working behind the scenes to pull everything together. Can you give us a crash course on your role at FableVision?
Producers at FableVision have the exciting task of managing projects that come in all shapes and sizes. We think about the project as a whole and work to keep the client’s vision at the forefront of the team’s mind every step of the way. Producers have a hand in shaping and guiding each project towards delivery. I get to constantly learn more about art, tech, and design – all things I love! At FableVision, we’re fortunate to work on a broad range of media, so every day and every project feels different.

As a producer you have to stay organized, what’s your trick?
I like to record everything as much as possible – I have three notebooks, one schedule book, and lots of calendars! I can type pretty quickly too, so I tend to transcribe meetings and conversations whenever possible.

What’s a favorite project that you’re working on now?
It’s so hard to choose! FableVision’s work with The Good Project is especially important to me. Through research-based concepts, frameworks, and resources, The Good Project seeks to help students reflect upon the ethical dilemmas that arise in everyday life and give them the tools to make thoughtful decisions. It was my first kickoff as a part of the FableVision team, and it ties perfectly with my experience at Harvard Graduate School of Education. Plus it involves a lot of content I feel passionate about, like social/emotional development.

Hats off to the new graduate! You recently matriculated from HGSE, tell us about what you studied in the Technology, Innovation, and Education (TIE) program?
As a member of the 2017 TIE cohort, I explored courses in design, entrepreneurship, animation, inclusive education, race and culture in education, and of course, children’s media! The program is really hands-on, so it involved a lot of awesome group projects and collaboration with students from a variety of professional backgrounds. I feel really fortunate to have spent a year growing professionally in such a supportive and creative environment.

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Before heading off to grad school, you managed the streaming content on the digital team at PBS KIDS. What are some of the insights you gleaned from curating digital content for kids?
The PBS KIDS Video app is so successful in part because it has such great design, and it’s really made with the target audience in mind. It was important for our team to constantly be thinking about how our young audience was seeing our videos. One interesting thing we realized was that marking a video as “new” didn’t necessarily alert kids to brand new content – partly because we have a lot of early readers as viewers. This meant that we could regularly repurpose content along with current pieces to maintain a level of variety.

You spent some time teaching in the classroom. Do you have any takeaways from your time as a teacher?
My time as a preschool teacher was so valuable and it shapes the way I understand, think about, and appreciate children and early educators. As a child development major in undergrad I had a firm understanding of why early education is so important, but being a part of that growth really brought it home for me. Children zero to five can do so much more than I had imagined. Plus, they’re imaginative, creative, honest, and fun. Early educators are smart, dedicated, and passionate people that deserve all our support. 

Who are some industry folks that you’re following these days and how do they inspire you to follow your North Star?Women in media like Rebecca Sugar, Issa Rae, and the ladies of Broad City and 2DopeQueens who are leading the way in their genres are all really inspiring to me. They let their own unique perspectives be their creative guide rather than trying to make more of what is already out there.

Last year's Extra Life team at FableVision Studios

Last year's Extra Life team at FableVision Studios

This is your first year gaming for good and raising funds for Boston Children’s Hospital with us for Extra Life! Why are you excited to join our team?
I’m super excited for Extra Life! Boston is my home and I’m proud that Boston Children’s Hospital is one of the best hospitals in the country. I’m excited to support an organization that brings so much necessity and good into the lives of kids and their families. I’m also looking forward to working with Team FableVision to beat our goal of $6,000!


Who is Kovu?
Kovu the dog! My fiancé Andy and I adopted Kovu as a rescue puppy a few years ago while we were living outside D.C. He’s nostalgically named after Kovu from Lion King 2, because we both happened to love the movie as kids and it’s such a great name! Kovu is about 90 lbs, and we think a Boxer, Great Pyrenees, Staffordshire mix. Maybe. He’s very lovable, strange, lazy, sleepy, and friendly. He loves belly rubs, playing with little kids, and swimming in lakes. He’s always making us laugh and we love him a lot!

As a traveling foodie, tell us about the top three international places to visit and eat our way through.

More about Sam!

Hogwarts house: I want to say Gryffindor, but I think I’m a Hufflepuff.
Your current jam: Bright Whites by Kishi Bashi
Current read: My professor’s book – The Diversity Bargain by Natasha Warikoo
Best Cartoon Ever: Ohhhhh, don’t make me choose! If I have to, my favorite anime is School Live! (Gakkō Gurashi!)
Food that makes you look like a cooking connoisseur: My Cincinnati Chili! (Thanks, America’s Test Kitchen!)
Greatest holiday: Halloween!!!!
Favorite Pokemon: Vulpix (fire types forever!) 
Tell us a joke: This is my favorite thing on the internet.
Hands-down the best sports team:  The Tufts Women’s Track and Field team!



Closer by the Mile: A FableVisionary’s Pan-Mass Challenge Adventure

FableVision's Mikaela Johnson (right) and her friend and PMC riding teammate Rebecca Epstein (left).

FableVision's Mikaela Johnson (right) and her friend and PMC riding teammate Rebecca Epstein (left).

Two weekends ago, I participated in my first-ever Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC). Alongside the incredibly inspiring, resilient group of riders on Team Freeman-Clayton, I rode from Wellesley, MA to Bourne, MA. After hearing amazing stories about the PMC experience from many folks—including FableVision’s Adam Landry (a Pan-Mass veteran of nine years!)—and watching my dad ride with this team for nine years, I decided to join Team Freeman-Clayton in its charge to find a cure.

For 38 years now, the Pan-Mass Challenge has drawn in thousands of cyclists from all over the U.S. and beyond to raise money for The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. It is a massive fundraising event that, according to its site, “raises more money for charity than any other athletic fundraising event in the country.”

The Pan-Mass Organization prides itself on being more than a cause—it’s a catalyst. I found these words to be true, even before the race had started. At the starting line, all of the cancer survivors riding were asked to raise their hands. An astonishing amount of riders raised their hands high and proud. They were amongst the hundreds of riders who were all working together to make “cancer-free” a reality for everyone, and help survivors maintain their good health. For me, those individuals were my catalyst; this was the humbling moment of realization that this was the reason why I was riding. This was the story that I would hold on to every mile of the way.

Every rider, volunteer, and sideline supporter brings a different story, a different reason for making the trek. Every mile of the ride was fueled by these stories and by kind words of encouragement by the spectators and volunteers. While each story is unique, they’re all based around one common goal—finding a cure. People told their stories through posters, drawings, signs, costumes, and displays of photographs of victims and survivors. Parents and friends of parents of cancer survivors or victims told their child’s story through their helmet decorations. Characters that offered comfort during those difficult times whizzed past me all weekend—Kermit the Frog, toy trucks, origami animals, Thomas the Tank Engine.

My experience reaffirmed the power that storytelling has to connect us and bring us down to earth, to teach and to inspire. I’m fortunate to be a part of a mission-driven community at FableVision, where the work I do revolves around a commitment to making the world a better place through media and storytelling. We’re constantly looking for ways to inspire creativity, foster learning, and most importantly, to motivate positive change in our world.

Though we pride ourselves on the contributions we make in the world of educational media, we also seek out ways to help our community more generally, whether that be running the Cambridge 5K Yulefest for Cambridge Family and Children's Services, partnering with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, busting out the board games for Extra Life, the 24-hour gaming fundraiser for Boston Children’s Hospital (more broadly for the Children’s Miracle Network), or collecting toys and presents as part of the Adopt-A-Family program with The Home For Little Wanderers.

I am so proud to have been able to participate in an event that helps get us so much closer to a cure. It was inspiring how much support and encouragement there was each step of the way, from volunteers passing out food at each stop to the little kids holding up signs and cheering on their front lawns as hundreds of riders zoomed past their houses.

The ride was full of inspiring stories, laughter, gratitude, and memories. Most importantly, the ride was full of life and full of hope. Hope took form in posters, fliers, decorated t-shirts, photographs, the faces of cancer warriors.

I learned about the power of optimism, support, community, and resilience. I learned that every ounce of support makes a difference.


More about Mikaela Johnson, Production Assistant
Born and raised in Needham, MA, Mikaela earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Colby College. At Colby, Mikaela was a member of the women’s squash team and worked as a research assistant in the Child Development Lab. While at the Lab, she spent hours in preschool classrooms collecting data for studies pertaining to children’s cognition. Prior to FableVision, Mikaela developed her passion for educational media during her two summers interning at WGBH, first as a radio intern for On Campus and then as a production assistant for High School Quiz Show. Read more about Mikaela