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Meet Nicole Dreiske of International Children’s Media Center in River North

Today we’d like to introduce you to Nicole Dreiske.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My story starts in 1975, founding Facets Multi-Media with $40 and a typewriter and two co-founders, Joseph Garcia and Milos Stehlik. At the time, there were no repertory cinemas or professional training programs for avant-garde actors in Chicago and I wanted Facets wanted to fill those gaps while offering gallery space and children’s programs. A tall order for a new non-profit!

For a while, we were showing 600 films a year and bringing in some of the greatest directors on the planet from Claude Chabrol to Werner Herzog. They’d drop in and chat with our experimental theater group, the Facets Performance Ensemble. FPE developed ten original plays in places ranging from the Sahara desert to the jungles of Colombia and toured all over the world before getting a Jeff Award in 1990.

When I finished my (er… somewhat abstruse) 8,000-page dissertation on interdisciplinary approaches to peak performance and accelerated learning, I took over the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival (CICFF). I spent over a decade with a fantastic team building it into the world-class event it still is. A quick ping – in 2002, I got the Academy to recognize it, so the CICFF was the first Academy-qualifying kidsfest in the world. Happy to say this meant that indie directors who made great short media for kids had a shot at competing for the Oscars®

Here’s what changed everything: while running the CICFF, I made sure that we talked to every group of kids and parents at every screening. The “media education warm-up” I wrote was lively and interactive, delivered by talented facilitators. Adults loved it because they could see how smart and perceptive and tuned in their kids really were about screen content. Focusing on “what happens before the lights go down” made the CICFF unique in the landscape of international festivals. Well, that and publishing a 150-page curriculum every year. I had a great run producing festivals in six other states and building a body of professional development workshops for groups ranging from the IL State Board of Ed to the IL Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

But parents were still panicking about the effects of screen time even though they had resources from many organizations. Teachers were beating the drum of learning loss, saying that screen time was draining kids’ focus and interest in learning. Artists in schools were talking about how the kids’ ideas were so “derivative”.

So I decided to stop everything I was doing and refocus on strengths. I wanted to work on things we can change instead of just examining the problems. I talked to parents and teachers and pediatricians for almost two years, asking just a few key questions: What does a great relationship with screens look like? How do we want our kids to engage technology? As adults, we’re not powerless against digital devices. We actually have the methods, motive, and opportunity to make a change. Let’s focus on those things and help our kids build a positive relationship with digital devices.

That’s when I started the International Children’s Media Center (ICMC). I spent seven years in schools all over Chicago exploring new ways to “turn on kids’ minds” and take the worry out of screen time. It all culminated this year in the Screen SmartTM approach and my book, THE UPSIDE OF DIGITAL DEVICES: How to Make Your Child More Screen Smart, Literate and Emotionally Intelligent.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Some things moved along a smooth road, others were a little bumpy. I remember the incredible highs of starting Facets, buying the 1517 Fullerton building, launching the theater company, touring to 500 venues, building the festivals and then leaving to combine everything I loved doing in a new way in the International Children’s Media Center. That was a bigger challenge because I didn’t want to compromise Facets, but at the same time, I knew I needed to strike out in new directions. In 2010, it meant heading out with no support because Facets needed (and can still use, y’all) all the support and appreciation it can get!

Getting a HELOC and cobbling together some consulting to launch the ICMC wasn’t a big hardship. The unexpected challenge was learning that when you separate yourself from an established institution, some people who were supporters, from funders to press, may start to steer clear. So, I learned to treasure those folks who instinctively knew that if I’d left something that I loved as much as I loved Facets, there had to be a good reason, not a dark one. For myself and my new staff, it was just important to keep our eyes on the prize – where are we going, how much fun can we have on the journey, how many teachers can we inspire, how much good can we do for parents and children in the shortest time? Those were the thoughts that were truly worth our focus.

International Children’s Media Center – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
The International Children’s Media Center (ICMC) is a small nonprofit with a big idea for 21st learning: transforming the way children and youth view, use and engage electronic screens. I think I’m proudest of the fact that in just eight years, the ICMC has created a wide range of arts, education and social justice programs that improve education in impoverished schools and inspire inmates in jails. The magic begins by teaching children and youth to focus on what’s happening in their own minds while they’re using screens and technology.

Seriously, you see exponential gains in learning and empathy when young people talk about their screen experiences and stay self-aware during screen time.

My approach is different because it’s based on wishes voiced by parents (and teachers and pediatricians and counselors) who told me what they want from technology for their children. I took their lists to heart and put together a fun, neuroscience-based approach drawn from my experience with accelerative learning and inquiry-based methodologies.

It’s all about connecting the stories in books to the stories on screens, and being aware of what we do with our minds while using technology. If you’re self-aware and intentional during screen time, you can easily develop healthy tech habits that stop screen addiction before it starts. Plus, kids love it and that makes parents’ lives easier.

Here’s the current ICMC line-up:
– Screen Smart is an accelerative learning program that closes the achievement gap for at-risk children and fast-tracks learning for everyone else. It improves literacy, focus and emotional intelligence in just half an hour, once a week. We specialize in problem-solving for schools and parents: What challenges are you having in early childhood classrooms? What do you need to strengthen? We’re here to help!
– ICFilmFest – The ICMC takes festivals “where no festival has gone before”. We bring programs of award-winning international and multi-cultural films to schools, theaters park districts, civic and community centers in far-flung Cook & Lake County locations.
– Global Girls & WorldScene residencies take place in detention centers, jails and homeless shelters. These programs serve marginalized, abused and incarcerated youth and we’ve seen some stunning outcomes: pro-social behaviors, reduced aggression and improved employment.
– Last, but not least, I do workshops for parents and teachers to help take the panic out of screen time. Building a healthy relationship to screens and technology is something we can do using skills we already have. We’ve got this!

Pricing:

  • UPSIDE OF DIGITAL DEVICES – Real strategies to help your kids build healthy tech habits for $15 or less.

Contact Info:

Getting in touch: VoyageChicago is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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