Alum builds educational YouTube for kids

Donna Guthrie, creator of Meet Me at the Corner, an educational  YouTube for children, speaks about her growing project in Sweigart Auditorium on April 23.
Donna Guthrie, creator of Meet Me at the Corner, an educational YouTube for children, speaks about her growing project in Sweigart Auditorium on April 23.

By Adrienne Stazzone

When Donna Guthrie graduated from Rider College in 1968, she never could have predicted that she’d return to her alma mater over 40 years later to deliver a speech on social media. But on Thursday, April 23, that’s exactly what she did.

A teacher and children’s book author, Guthrie has combined both disciplines in her most recent project, Meet Me at the Corner, a sort of educational YouTube for kids. Although she pursued journalism in college, Guthrie was offered a first-grade teaching position upon graduating, which she accepted.

“Back in the ’60s, there were two or three things you could do as a woman,” she said. “You could be a nurse, you could be a secretary or you could be a teacher, and I wanted very much to be a writer. Believe it or not, it was easier to get a teaching job than it was to get a journalism job at that time.”

It wasn’t until she became a mom and began reading picture books that she decided to try her hand at writing for children.

“I said, ‘Gee, how hard could this be?’” Guthrie said. “It’s 32 pages and 26 illustrations. I mean, I’m a writer; I’m sure it’s easy to do this.”

So she did, eventually going on to author 23 children’s books.

Determined to get a master’s degree by age 60, she enrolled in a Master of Fine Arts program at Vermont College.

It was there, she said, that she began questioning the book as a medium. With children reading less and the Internet constantly progressing, Guthrie began considering an alternative method of storytelling.

“I was thinking, ‘Wait a minute, perhaps there’s another way to do this,’” she said. “Maybe we can combine the world of the Internet and video with storytelling.”

From there, the idea of Meet Me at the Corner was born.

“The [concept] was simply to go to various corners of New York City,” Guthrie said. “We had a child interviewer and [he or she] would interview an interesting person, maybe a beekeeper, or a subway musician or the musical director of Hairspray.”

When considering her market, Guthrie immediately thought of the educational community. But when she took into account its size, she decided to concentrate on the more condensed home school population.

“I knew there were kids in Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado and California who might like to meet a taxi cab driver,” she said. “So I thought of these four-minute videos that we would produce on the Internet, and I would sell ads to home school publishers to maintain the site.”

Meet Me at the Corner, Guthrie knew, would need to be interactive enough for today’s most technologically- savvy child.

“Along with producing my own ideas, I would open it up so it would be sort of a YouTube for kids, so that they could submit their own videos,” she said. “It can’t just be two people talking.  There has to be pictures and visuals.”

But unlike other Web pages that allow children to upload their own content, Guthrie monitors what makes it onto her site.

“I actually edit the material, so there sort of has to be a point to it,” she said.

Though her site attracts about 6,000 viewers a month, with a new video added every two weeks, Guthrie asked for suggestions from the audience on how to obtain more hits. Creating a Facebook page, establishing ties with future teachers and attending education workshops were some of the ideas she received in the Sweigart Auditorium.

“This is where I need your help,” she said. “I really can’t depend on my peers — [they] are retiring now.”

Guthrie feels her site has great growth potential and is looking to expand beyond the home school community into the public school system in the near future.

“I’m trying very hard to connect my videos with the school curriculum,” she said. “As I’ve gone on for the past 18 months, I can see a much bigger market for this in public schools. I can see this is growing already.”

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