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Former Studio CEO Using Animation to Transform Learning in an Idaho School District

His studio created some of the most popular animated series in the 1990s including “Rugrats” and the “The Wild Thornberrys.” However, as the demand changed from storyline-based programs to shows that featured less plot and more random action, the former CEO of Klasky Csupo studios Terry Thoren knew he had to take his skills in a new direction.

Thoren created WonderGrove Storymaker animation software, which allows teams of students to create their own animated videos. Three years ago, Jeff Dillon, superintendent of Wilder School District 133 in Wilder, Idaho, met Thoren at a social event and his product caught the attention of this innovative school leader.

“When I saw this product, I knew I needed this for my kids. I needed this so they could tell their story,” Dillon said at an AASA national conference session on Friday.

The Wilder district was featured in a September 2018 CBS News story that described how the small farm community with a large population of migrant farm workers was using technology as part of its plan to transform the district. The WonderGrove Storymaker software is part of that plan.

Students use collaboration skills to research stories, then write and rewrite scripts, storyboard action, record voices, add music and sound effects and ultimately produce a final animated video. Thoren has even worked directly with educators to develop a guide on how schools can create an elective class that would teach students how to use the animation software and how it ties in to other parts of the curriculum.

“I’m in this to incubate future story tellers,” Thoren said.

He showed several videos created by students in Dillon’s district. Students as young as second grade were able to create animations that addressed topics important to them such as using animals for research to concerns of classmates having to leave the country due to changes in their federal immigration status. The school has created several videos that can be viewed on their YouTube Channel, Wilder Animation Studio.

WonderGrove also offers a series of more than 200 instructional animations that cover eight areas of learning: school readiness, vocabulary, fitness, health and science, life skills, safety, social skills and nutrition. Also, several videos address child safety issues that are available at no cost.

Districts interested in finding out more about the products offered by Wonder Media and pricing can visit their website at

(David Mustonen is director of communications in the Dearborn, Mich., Public Schools and a reporter for AASA’s Conference Daily Online.)

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