Every Wittenberg University student is required to perform a community service project to graduate. Adam Burdsall, class of 2011 from New Carlisle, Ohio, developed a learning experiment using his Muppet-sized puppet, Cordon Blue, to share his message with children at Springfield's Warder Literacy Center.
"I have been a puppeteer since I was eight years old, so it has been a part of my life for a long time," Burdsall said. "A puppet can connect with children in ways that a live person just can't."
Burdsall met with Carolyn Boor, a volunteer coordinator at the Springfield Regional Medical Center, to set up his service project. She wanted him to use his puppetry abilities in his service project.
"My initial idea was to work with her at the hospital with patients where I would bring in a puppet to interact with the patients, tell a few jokes, and generally try to bring an atmosphere of lightheartedness to the people there," Burdsall said. "I had seen a similar thing work where clowns would visit hospitals and figured the same would work with a puppet."
However, Boor introduced Burdsall to David Smiddy, a volunteer coordinator at Warder Literacy Center, who was intrigued by the idea of a puppet helping with the learning process for the students at the Warder Center.
Smiddy gave Burdsall ideas and several outlines for skits they could do with the children.
"I would write these skits that would teach an important lesson about literacy or address some of the challenges that some of the children at the Warder Center have faced," Budsall said.
After writing three skits, Burdsall used his first skit as a monologue to advertise a "fun day" where he would perform the other two skits.
"This monologue demonstrated that reading can be fun and that a child who is struggling to read can find a way to learn to read," Burdsall said. "The 'fun day' that this skit advertised for was a time where the kids would be able to make a craft and play some games."
While entertaining the two skits, Burdsall wanted to concentrate on a more serious message expressed to the children. One skit was about a boy with Visual Stress Syndrome, which is an irritation of the visual cortex by fluorescent lights. The irritation gets in the way of the child's reading by creating visual distortions.
"The skit demonstrated that the use of a simple tinted overlay can relieve the stress and allow a child to read normally," Burdsall said. "It demonstrates that the child who has the syndrome is not stupid or weird, but that their brain simply does not like the fluorescent lights."
The second skit demonstrated how using a simple toy can allow a child with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to concentrate on his or her task and that the ADHD is nothing more than the way they are made.
With the help of Cordon Blue, Burdsall knew he could make a difference and give a child the boost he or she needed to be successful in the world. Though Burdsall is unsure if he made a difference coming from behind the scenes, he received hints that his experiment was a success.
"One of the hints I received was after I had performed the first skit to advertise the 'fun day.' I was putting my puppet away and preparing to leave when I looked up and saw a little boy who had just seen the skit," Burdsall said. "He was beaming at me from a gap in the cubicle where he was in his tutoring session.
"While I do not know how much Cordon's skit was helpful in his learning process, I could tell that the skit had brought some joy to his day."
- Written by Lauren Johnson '09
- Photo by Erin Pence