Portrait of a Graduate in Action: Once Upon a Child


Portrait of a Graduate in Action: Once Upon a Child

April 23, 2024

Portrait of a Graduate in Action is a regular feature that provides greater meaning, through everyday examples, to the Warwick Valley Central School District’s Portrait of a Graduate (POG). POG is a representation of the district’s priority teaching and learning goals, which are aimed at creating graduates who are collaborators, communicators, creators and innovators, ethical and global citizens, resilient individuals, problem-solvers, and life-long learners.

For the seventh year, Warwick Valley High School students from multiple academic programs (and creative disciplines) dove into a weeks-long period of creative collaboration, working together to turn their words, visuals, and production values into animated short stories for this year’s Once Upon a Child project! The annual project is a perfect example of an academic undertaking that calls on students to work specifically on developing a few of the seven key qualities of the district’s Portrait of a Graduate: creators, collaborators and communicators.

Watch this year’s Once Upon a Child stories below this article!

Portrait of a Graduate articulates our community’s aspirational vision for the skills, attributes and dispositions that every Warwick Valley graduate should possess. It places an emphasis on relationships, experiential learning, student choice, and group collaboration, as well as the development of enduring academic, interpersonal and critical thinking skills.

Once Upon a Child is a project built on creativity, collaboration, and communication.

Students from Danielle DeBella’s creative writing class wrote the children’s stories. They formed book teams with students from Kristen Spano and Nicole Sisco’s art classes, who created the illustrations. Students from Dan Cecconie’s video production class shot footage of voice actors narrating the stories, and combined those with the illustrations and music to produce the final videos.

“In my class and Ms. Sisco’s class, our artists met with Ms. DeBella’s writers to brainstorm and get started on some thumbnail sketches of their ideas,” said Ms. Spano. “We looked at things like what types of characters the authors were creating, how those character were going to be clothed, and the writers’ vision for environments, backgrounds.”

Watch this year’s Once Upon a Child stories below this article!

Ms. Spano said that the artists and writers had check-in creative sessions at multiple points in the collaborative process to go over their storyboards and gauge their progress. When the authors and artists had their copy and visuals ready, they began working with the production team to bring their stories to the screen. That’s when Mr. Cecconie and his production students came in.

“I actually brought in a bunch of children’s stories that I had at home from when my kids were growing up and had the students perform them for each other,” said Mr. Cecconie. The exercise highlighted the importance of choosing strong vocal actors who could get into character and bring the stories to life with their on-screen narrations. “They giggled at each other at first, but I told them they had to let themselves get out of that ‘cool-teenager-in-high-school’ mindset, and let themselves go back to a time when monsters were real and summer was a wondrous thing.”

The Once Upon a Child project actually grew from a concept that Mr. Cecconie came up with during his career as a television producer. Children’s book publishers would bring copies of upcoming releases to the television station, asking for ways to promote the titles on air. Mr. Cecconie had the idea of taking stills of the copy and illustrations and turning them into simple animations, then overlaying those visuals with narration. 

Watch this year’s Once Upon a Child stories below this article!

“I still say it was a precursor to Reading Rainbow,” said Mr. Cecconie with a laugh.

As the creative meetings between book teams and his producers began, Mr. Cecconie encouraged close communication. He helped the authors and artists understand that the producers are there to listen to them, and that the clearer the artists and authors could be about what was in their mind’s eye, the closer the producers could get in capturing it on video. 

Here are this year’s creative teams.

Peter the Peacock
Jack Boudreau (author) Sophie Quicke (artist) Joe Purdy (producer)

Chris the Koala
Brooke Heffner (author) Julianna Browning (artist) Kaden Nagel (producer)

Snooky the Sneaky Snake
Ashley Sumner (author) Sara Venter (artist) Rowan Astorino (producer)

The Bee and the Flower
Abigail Doiron (author) Sam Paul (artist) Mekhi Winfrey (producer)

The Christmas Moons
Emma DiPalma (author) Meghan Broking (artist) Abby Glover (producer)

Bombi the Bomb
Miller Pritchard (author) Lalita Krishnamoorthy (artist) Jon-Michael Lobosco (producer)

Joey’s Jar
Annabella Casale (author) Maddie Pesta (artist) Danny Devine (producer)

The Dream to Fly
Kyra Murray (author) Madison Burke (artist) Dan Cecconie (producer)

This years videos were shown during a story reveal presentation on Thursday, April 18 to an audience that included the teachers and many of the students who contributed their talent to the project. 



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