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Logan Square, Humboldt Park, Avondale

CPS Teacher Wants To Fill Remote Learning Gap With Children’s TV Show Set At Logan Square Community Garden

Sarah Falkiner and project partner Oddbox Theater are raising money to bring a puppet-driven TV show, called "At The Garden," to life.

CPS teacher Sarah Falkiner (left) and Oddbox Theatre are trying to get their puppet-driven children's TV show, "At The Garden," off the ground.
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LOGAN SQUARE — A Chicago Public Schools preschool teacher is looking to launch a children’s TV show in partnership with a local theater company.

Sarah Falkiner, who teaches preschool at Cameron Elementary School in West Humboldt Park, and Oddbox Theater are raising money to bring their show, called “At The Garden,” to life. The show would star Oddbox puppets tackling complex themes.

The goal of the show, which is still in the early stages, is to teach kids literacy, socio-emotional learning and sustainability. Falkiner said she hopes to fill the widening learning gap brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Falkiner herself has struggled to teach her students in an equitable way over the course of the pandemic. Since returning to the classroom, she’s had to juggle teaching two students in person and eight via the computer with a whole host of technical issues.

“Our kids need this now more than ever,” she said. “Kids are falling through the cracks with hybrid learning and with the back and forth, in person and not in person. This is a show that can catch some of those kids.”

Falkiner came up with the idea for the show over the summer. For several weeks, she organized socially distant performances at the Corner Farm, a community garden at Altgeld Street and Sawyer Avenue, as an outlet for neighbors during the pandemic. Each week an artist or musician took the stage: one week it was a cellist, the next it was a poet. Masked neighbors sat and watched from seats spread out over the garden.

One of the groups that came to perform was Oddbox Theater. The theater group put on a puppet show centered on a landlord trying to kick bees and worms out of their homes — and it was a hit. Adults and children loved it, Falkiner said.

That’s when Falkiner realized the puppets would make a great TV show. In addition to a CPS teacher, Falkiner is a filmmaker.

After getting the Oddbox founders on board, Falkiner brought on film industry professionals with Gold Point Studio and more writers. So far, the “At The Garden” team has written four episodes, all revolving around the Oddbox puppets and set at the Corner Farm.

In each episode, the puppets — and the adults they interact with — use emotional learning tools to solve problems and to better understand themselves and the world around them. The show is “Sesame Street” meets “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” with the whimsy of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” Falkiner said.

They’re writing one episode in which one character is adopted, another is an only child, another has two moms and so on. It’s about how “we all come from different families but what’s important is they love us and care for us in their own way,” Falkiner said.

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Jackie Smook with Oddbox Theater and the puppets.

As they’ve gotten deeper into the project, Falkiner said it’s become clear they need an infusion of funding to make a quality show.

Their goal is to raise $15,000 through GoFundMe by March 7. The donations will go toward a soundstage rental, a crew of more than 20 film professionals specializing in TV production, puppet and art design, equipment and production insurance.

To get neighbors excited about the project, and to celebrate the end of what they hope will be a successful fundraiser, Falkiner is hosting an interview and read-aloud event with Sharon Dennis Wyeth, author of the award-winning children’s book, “Something Beautiful,” March 6.

If all goes according to plan, Falkiner and her team aim to shoot a sample episode at the end of March which they can pitch to production studios. Right now, they’re focused on bringing in large donors to make the project a reality.

“If this show were something people could watch easily, it can’t fix the [learning gap] problem, but it can be supplemental,” Falkiner said.

Those who are interested in becoming a large donor should email Falkiner at shytownsugarfilms@gmail.com or call co-producer Grace Pisula at 773-316-6352.

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