Edu-tainment: The Next Big Little Thing

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Edu-tainment:  The Next Big Little Thing

How a school counselor and a music librarian created an entire puppet educational series in their garage, and made it into a hit.

Sandy Rakich was in her 10th year as an elementary school counselor with LAUSD, when she, like thousands of others, received her lay-off notice.  She had been working as an inner city grade school, where 99% of the kids in these classrooms are at risk.  “Even more devastating to me than having to face the reality of my own grim career prospects in a recession, was the reality that all my kids now face: having no school counselor or guidance support.”  And then she thought about all the other schools everywhere that are going through the same thing, and what the long term effect this would will have an entire generation of young students.


That’s when Jimmy Mastandrea, a Creative Director for a music publishing company,  suggested they partner up, and put his 25 years of music/production background and love of craftsmanship and puppetry,  and her masters in education counseling and psychology background, and create a unique, music-based puppet guidance video program that could be used in elementary classrooms by teachers.

“We spent the next year, and every last penny between the two of us, creating Buckalope Elementary.”

So what does it take to create an independent video series from scratch?
“We made all our own puppets, build a set in our garage, wrote the script and original songs for six episodes, shot and edited it all, and designed the packaging for a DVD boxed set.”  Rakich was also able to put together a focus group of teachers, counselors, and actual classrooms to provide critical feedback. What resulted was an overwhelming endorsement from the educational community.  “The children laugh and sing-a-long with the whole cast of characters.” says one elementary school teacher. “They are one-hundred percent engaged, and eager to discuss the message afterward.”

By the time they finished writing and producing the sixth episode, the music videos were already going viral on youtube.  “We were getting 400-500 hits a day, and teachers started contacting us from all over the country asking us if they could use these songs as part of their lesson plans.” said Mastandrea.  “One fan even emailed us to let us know their younger brother was performing one of our songs in his school play.”


The challenge for Rakich and Mastandrea has since been trying to market a video product created for classrooms in a down economy where schools have little or no funds for supplemental materials.   “That’s when we decided to go the Non-Profit route, and see if we could somehow get the program donated to schools.” Rakich said.

They’re currently running various campaigns to raise the funds to help subsidize the cost of distribution of the DVD boxed set, including a “Get One, Give One” campaign where for every set purchased, Exclusive Education will donate one to a classroom.

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