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WQED to Air Duquesne Professor’s Health and Science Show for Kids

The pilot of a new TV show on health literacy, created by a Duquesne University professor, will air on Pittsburgh’s PBS affiliate WQED-TV the first week of September.

The pilot will be part of WQED’s “back-to-school” programming lineup. Dr. John Pollock, associate professor of biology in the Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, is known for creating health literacy shows and multimedia for patients. For this latest project, Pollock has partnered with David Caldwell of Planet Earth Television to produce a live-action, 30-minute Scientastic! pilot. The show intends to engage older elementary and middle school children and their parents as active participants in their own health and lifestyle choices.

Scientastic! will air:

  • Thursday, Sept. 2, 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
  • Friday, Sept. 3, 4:30 p.m.
  • Sunday, Sept. 5, noon, 12:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, Sept. 7, 5 p.m.

Besides being aired on WQED, the show is available on DVD for use in schools in the greater Pittsburgh area, along with companion teaching resources on the website, www.ScientasticTV.com.

In the pilot, Sticks and Stones, Habiba, the best friend of the main character, 12-year-old Leah, breaks her arm at soccer practice because she is pushed by a group of mean girls. Leah springs into action, going to the library, doctors’ offices, research labs and museums to learn about bones. With her little brother in tow, Leah learns how bones heal, and how nutrition and exercise affect bone strength and repair, as well as how stem cells and tissue engineering will one day help bones heal faster. The pilot episode also addresses bullying in a constructive way.

“There’s such a great base of health-related resources in Pittsburgh, which is one of the reasons we decided to set the show here,” said Pollock, who included orthopedic surgeons and pediatricians from Children’s Hospital and scientists from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the National Aviary in the pilot, among other local settings.

Pollock uses real doctors and scientists from the Pittsburgh area as information storehouses and as entertainment for the kids—in some episodes, the doctors sing and dance right alongside the actors. The show includes original songs, dance sequences and 3-D and 2-D animations created by Pollock’s team at Duquesne and the local animators at Home Run Pictures.  Additional creative input came from other collaborators, including Patricia Maurides at Carnegie Mellon University.

The pilot is directed by Emmy-Award winner Leo Eaton, who is known for co-creating and directing the PBS hit show Zoboomafoo, and is written by Zoboomafoo Emmy-Award winning writer Mike Erskine-Kellie. Besides using choreographed animated interludes, the pilot also engaged student actors and dancers from Pittsburgh’s Creative and Performing Arts school.

Scientastic! teaches basic science principles, ties those basic principles to health and addresses social issues pertinent to kids. The overall goal is to help people make decisions that lead to healthy lifestyles.

“Between 70 and 100 million adults in America have low health literacy skills,” explained Pollock. “That’s basically half the adult population. Health literacy has to be a family decision.”

“The hallmark of public media is education,” said Deborah L. Acklin, executive vice president and chief operating officer of WQED Multimedia. “More than 56 years ago, this unique and very profound concept of ‘educational television’ started right here in Pittsburgh and has grown to be one of the most respected entities in the country.  We help young people by providing for them the educational tools ‘to think’ and to reason for themselves, and this partnership with Professor Pollock and his team is just another way we change lives in our community.”


Scientastic! was funded with approximately $205,000 from a number of sources including UPMC Health Plan, The Pittsburgh Foundation‘s William K. Fitch Fund and the Lewis H. & Jess Morgan Kelly Fund; and the Science Education Partnership Award of the National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health; Duquesne University; and the U.S. Department of Education.

Pollock and his Partnership in Education team at Duquesne, along with production partner Planet Earth Television, have developed a list of over 100 topics for future shows, including diabetes, the flu and the immune system. Each show ties its particular topic to general science and health literacy and provides online resources for kids and their families. Pollock and Caldwell hope to secure future funding to create an entire Scientastic! series.

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.