Alyssa Tsagong

My day job is director of education at PBS Wisconsin.

In this role, I have three major areas of responsibility: Making sure PBS KIDS programs and learning activities are available to kids throughout Wisconsin in multiple ways (on television, on demand, online and through community partnerships); creating content for Wisconsin learners and educators, which is a combination of producing original content (like Wisconsin Biographies, Kindness in the Classroom and Wisconsin First Nations,) and tapping into the vast repository of PBS content from around the country; and supporting educators of PreK-12 students. This includes workshops, webinars and professional learning, all of which is happening virtually right now.

I’ve been inspired by public television most of my life. I have a visceral memory of being about three years old and having one of those little Fischer Price tape recorders—it was my favorite toy. I don’t know what happened to the recorder, but the tape survived and there’s a recording of me watching Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers and singing along.

The magic of public media is that it’s not trying to get kids to buy a product; it’s unlocking something about their curiosity to help them learn and grow.

Public media in Wisconsin started over 100 years ago with the invention of broadcasting on the UW Madison campus—their first broadcast was from Science Hall.

One of the early things that happened in Wisconsin Public Media was the idea of creating a “school of the air.” Someone had the idea that they could use radio to support the kids across the state who were learning in one-room schoolhouses, through the “Let’s Draw” and “Let’s Sing programs, among others.

If I could go back in time, I’d love to be at the pitch meeting for whoever sold the idea of teaching kids to draw through a program on the radio.

I’ve spoken to people about their memories of sitting in that one-room schoolhouse and being so excited to have the break in their day thanks to this program. How awesome for the kids and the teacher.

Public media has pivoted as media options have changed. TV became a great mechanism to create interesting, engaging content for learning. And even though we’re now providing most of our classroom content using the internet, with the pandemic, there’s been a new opportunity to look at how broadcast media can play a role in equitable access to educational media. The internet isn’t always consistent—no matter where you live, there can be challenges in terms of access, speed and devices. But if you have an antenna, you can watch PBS Wisconsin.

When the schools closed in March, we knew we already had a great broadcast schedule of content for children 2-8 years old through the PBS KIDS programs. To extend that, we reprogrammed our secondary channels and worked with colleagues around the PBS system to build a content schedule for Grades 3-12. Who would have thought broadcast television would be a newly novel tool in 2020? And yet, here we are. The world is pretty unpredictable. 

Public media is such an amazing and generous industry to be part of—we’re always asking each other for ideas or providing quick-start access to tools that we’ve created at our own stations. It’s really exciting to be part of that.

My most memorable caffeine was the perfect masala chai that was served in a really small clay cup at a tiny little stand in Sarnath, India. They exclusively made chai in a giant pot over a fire. I was sitting on a little blue bench with my now-husband, then fiancé. He grew up in India and Nepal and introduced me to this very special chai in Sarnath. It was a sunny day, the perfect temperature.

My current caffeine of choice is a cup of home brewed coffee, made with beans from Stone Creek and drunk in the cup that my friend Nahline made for me.

My favorite place for caffeine is the car. I love little mom and pop coffee shops, but if I were to say a favorite place, it’s in a car, with a travel mug and a colleague. We’d be driving somewhere around the state to connect with the partners, educators and students we work with. There’s something about having that time and that space. Don’t the best conversations happen in a car?

The people I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with right now are the people who could share advice and ideas for how to best help kids in this unique time. If I had to pick one person, it would be Mr. Rogers. I would listen to his thoughts and observations on how to be a helper.

And I’d invite some teachers and parents—to share their observations and challenges and be a part of the brainstorm.  

World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: access to high-quality, culturally relevant education for all of our children. It’s a big, big dream and not what all children receive. I really do believe (and research backs this up!) that every investment in children and educators ripples out to solve so many other problems.