September 17, 2012

The View From Here

The “triple threat,” as former Adventist Review editor William G. Johnsson nicknamed the KidsView team at its commencement, peered at a daunting task. It was up to them to plan, create, and execute a publication for kids. Kimberly Luste Maran, Merle Poirier, and Bonita Joiner Shields didn’t have a product name, any definite ideas on how it would look, what it would contain, which would be the targeted age group, or where they’d get the contents. And they had been working on the same staff for only a few months. With nerves fluttering and excitement flowing, the trio started that first spring 2002 meeting with prayer—then jumped into brainstorming their approach.

The conversation with Johnsson was fresh in their minds. He had told them about a camp meeting request from a woman who had asked him to seriously consider creating a special publication unique for children.  An editor’s elementary-age son had similarly been urging the idea.  The idea had been stirring for years. Now, with the receipt of several donations for start-up, the staffing and timing seemed impeccable—the dream of creating  a children’s paper could become a reality. Exuding confidence in his team, Johnsson left the trio with one reminder. “This publication is for kids,” he explained, “but it’s also important that it be by kids. Kids need to be at the heart of what we do; otherwise we won’t be successful.”

Notepads sat in front of each team member. Soon those pads were filled with ideas on content, authors, age ranges, and local schools they could poll. Taking it as a requirement that children needed to be involved right from the start, the team devised a poll and set up meetings at six diverse area Adventist schools. Nothing was left to chance: the questionnaire had multiple-choice and open-ended questions that would be discussed during meetings at the schools—multiple meetings at some schools—all to occur before the end of the school year. Armed with question sheets, pencils, myriad sample magazines, and a full week’s schedule of appointments, the team headed out for their first stop. 

It’s All in a Name
That first meeting made several things crystal clear: kids gravitate toward stories; they like puzzles; and the name of the publication would be important to them. But they seemed stumped when asked to give suggestions for the name. “Review for Kids” and “Kids Review” were some presented. And one clever girl even suggested “Junior Jargon.” 

It wasn’t until the second meeting that another girl casually cut through the furrowed-brow musings with “What about ‘KidsView’? It combines kids and the Review, and since the magazine’s supposed to be from our point of view, it could mean that, too.” Everyone gathered agreed excitedly that the name was perfect.

As they went to the next four schools, the trio refrained from sharing this moniker until the end of the naming portion of the discussion.1 When they’d mention “KidsView,” unanimous excitement and approval would pour from the younger set. 

Not only did KidsView get its name from its audience, ideas for devotionals, stories, puzzles, and a monthly calendar came from those sessions. Details were later finessed by the KidsView advisory board.

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Outside the Lines: In the August 29, 2002, special issue of the Adventist Review, KidsView is introduced in a "flip" issue--this is the cover.

Ministry Outside the Lines
The KidsView team had already decided it would operate an advisory board comprised of kids in their demographic. But before they could hold any meetings they needed to take the reams of information they had gathered from the six school groups and combine it with the team’s objectives. Work started simultaneously on fund-raising,2 creating content, selecting the logo and body fonts, and devising the look of the publication. The launch would be that fall.

Brainstorming led the team to pitch a “crazy idea” to the Review staff. How about doing a special issue with half of it Review articles about ministry outside the lines (the entire Review issue was originally designated to be all about unique ministries), and the other half, the “flip” side, an introduction to KidsView? With approval secured, Maran coordinated that August 2002 special issue of the Adventist Review. Shields and Poirier labored to find, write, edit, and design the flip side content. Once the special issue was complete, work immediately started on the first four-page issue—and on finalizing the advisory board membership.

Back to School
The first KidsView, stitched inside the third Review of the month, welcomed children back to school.3 The team was drained, nervous, and excited. Would this product be a success? Would KidsView make it beyond that first year? Would anyone read it? These questions whirred in the trio’s minds, but choosing to trust in the Lord’s leading, they didn’t linger in their worries—they just kept working.

Once the team had two issues to share, the advisory meetings began. In October nine children4 ages 8 to 11 met after school in the Review’s library in the General Conference building. Each had been recommended by teachers, principals, and/or parents—and each child eagerly ate snacks and shared ideas with the KidsView staff. They told the staff what they liked and didn’t like, what to keep the same, what to change. They also accepted assignments—and more than once the advisory team had significant roles in creating content for almost entire issues of KidsView.

These sessions were invaluable to the fledging publication. For several years, with different sets of kids, the KidsView team relied on their kids to get things right. The goal was to always include kids—and in an organic and meaningful way. There was also a message that needed to be clearly communicated: the church loves its children, the Adventist Review loves kids, and the magazines want kids to get to know Jesus and their church better. This didn’t change when Shields left the staff and Wilona Karimabadi joined (January 2007). And while the product has changed some, this commitment hasn’t changed in the ensuing years. 

KidsView Today
KidsView has certainly come a long way since those early days. The KidsView “Classroom Connection” teachers’ guides written by Marilyn Petersen helped open up possibilities for expansion—and in 2008, with Karimabadi’s lead, the four-page publication went through a major growth spurt, doubling in size to eight pages. That year KidsView also realized the dream to create a Web site, which launched in September 2008. 

But that wasn’t everything! That year, because of the generous commitment and financial support of the Ellen G. White Estate, Adventist Mission, and the Education Department of the North American Division (NAD), KidsView was sent directly into the hands of the children it serves by including complimentary subscriptions to every Adventist school classroom, grades 3-6, throughout the division. These partnerships were (and are) vital in keeping KidsView alive and growing. And for each entity, the partnership has been important in reaching out to kids.

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Miles of Smiles: Former Review editor William G. Johnsson hangs out with the second KidsView advisory board, circa 2004.

“Students are the only reason Adventist education exists,” says Larry Blackmer, vice president for education in the NAD. “We exist only to help young people know Jesus better and to inculcate Adventist values in our young people in an atmosphere of love and in a quality learning environment,” Blackmer adds. KidsView, according to Blackmer, has been a help in accomplishing this.

Cindy Tutsch, an associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate, says that the ministry she works for was also eager to join with KidsView. “One facet of our ministry is to promote Adventist heritage,” she explains. The stories they provide about James and Ellen White and other intrepid early Adventists allows their contribution to KidsView to be “one way that we can help children benefit from their Adventist heritage.”

KidsView’s third partner, the Office of Adventist Mission, has a heart for children too. It saw KidsView as “the best way we could reach the most kids on a regular basis,” according to marketing director Nancy Kyte. “We want kids to know that the church has a long tradition of mission service and that mission service is still a worthy career option.” And like KidsView, Adventist Mission also wants children to know that they are part of a global church family and that “they don’t have to wait until they are grown up to be involved.” 

The magazine is now available three ways: stitched inside the last Adventist Review of the month, as a stand-alone available in school (it can be ordered separately and in bulk for homeschoolers and churches), and through its Web site. KidsView also operates a Facebook page that gives grown-ups a chance to interact with the team as it points parents to quality content for their children.

The hope is that by continually increasing brand recognition and growing its audience, churches will also find ways to bring KidsView into their congregations to reach children who do not attend Adventist school. The staff believes that these children should have the same awareness and access to KidsView materials.

Did We Help at All?
Even though its tagline is “The Adventist Review for kids, and those who always will be kids at heart,” KidsView
has always strived to make its greatest impact on its target audience—children. The team utilized kids in the process of creating content and guiding its overall vision. The publication still regularly seeks out kid reporters to write stories, share their artwork, and comment on how it’s doing. And plans are in the works to conduct advisory meetings with a fresh set of students.

But the question that looms is this: did KidsView help kids at all? Readers, advisory board members, reporters—has this little paper contributed positively to their lives?

Ten years on, the KidsView team has talked to some of the kids who helped in the early days as advisory board members and reporters. Those “children” are now in college and the upper grades of high school. And it turns out that KidsView did make a difference in their lives. “While I was on the advisory board, the responsibility made me feel more mature,” says Jasmine Jiao, an early advisory board member and now a sophomore kinesiology major at the University of Maryland, College Park. “Reading KidsView helped me spend more time focused on God, knowing that it was Christ-centered material. I think these things impacted my spiritual life as a 10-year-old.”

Aaron Jordan, who attends Takoma Academy, was just a second grader at Beltsville Adventist School in Maryland when his principal recommended him to be part of KidsView’s advisory board. “I got good tips and encouragement that helped me to walk closer to God, and I gave my heart to Jesus and was baptized at the age of 8,” he says. “Seeing my articles and sometimes my picture boosted my self-confidence. Being involved with this magazine has helped to keep me grounded and has sort of cultivated the leadership talents God has given me.”

Milk and cookies at meetings was one of a few favorite memories from Jonathan Jacob’s days with KidsView’s board 10 years ago. As a fifth grader Jacobs, now 20 and a junior business administration major (and vice president of communication for the Student Association) at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, says he learned organizational lessons that have stayed with him. “I can truthfully say that the meeting and brainstorming skills I learned from working with KidsView are still put to use in my various organizations today.”

Lisa Poirier, a junior music education major at Andrews University, describes herself as being a little shy when she was first tapped to work with KidsView as a second-term advisory board member. But apparently the experience served her well. “I was scared of what others would think of my opinions, and there were kids there that I didn’t know,” she remembers. “But by the end of the experience, that perspective changed. I liked how appreciative everyone seemed after I shared a thought of mine. And I also gained more friends and acquaintances and stepped outside of my ‘little bubble.’ I loved how it taught me that adults do care about kids’ opinions and that what I have to say does matter.”

Lasting Impressions
Alicia Salazar, a senior at Collegedale Academy in Collegedale, Tennessee, was an 8-year-old third grader when she served on the advisory board. “I was able to provide my input and voice my opinion without having to worry about the quality of my idea,” says Salazar. “I also felt as though I was contributing to a wider audience than just a group of kids my age.”

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Peer Review: KidsView Advisory board members Sara Rose and David White review an issue of the magazine.

Her time with KidsView left lasting impressions. “KidsView served as a way to help promote creative thinking, work well with others, and develop a sense of accomplishment. It also impressed me to pursue my interest in writing.” 

Salazar isn’t the only who took valuable lessons from their time of service. Evan Knott, a senior religion and communication major at Andrews University, says he “enjoyed being able to work with other kids in giving input and helping to shape an exciting new product like KidsView. It was a great opportunity to learn how a magazine is produced, as well as more about contributing as a part of a team.”

Sara Rose, who served two terms, was the youngest member of our first advisory board. She recently finished her second year of college as an elementary education major at Walla Walla University in College Place, Washington, and is spending this next year in Europe, studying in Spain. Rose says, “It was a great experience working with the KidsView group! I am glad I was able to do that.”

And Jacobs had this to add: “My favorite part of KidsView was walking into that meeting room and getting the sense that my little 9-year-old life could actually have a broader impact than I had ever imagined before.” Jacobs enjoyed “trying out new ideas as we went.” An enduring memory was working on the issue that included a story about kids who ran an entire radio station. “That was very inspiring to me,” says Jacobs. “KidsView sparked a fire in me to create relevant media for Adventist youth of all ages.”

In Our Tween Years
So what’s next for KidsView? Immediate plans involve a redesign and relaunch of its Web site that will soon include companion sites in French, Spanish, and Portuguese to make it possible for more kids around the world to have access. KidsView will continue to keep increasing its brand recognition as the magazine grows and evolves in order to keep up with its growing and evolving audience—which literally changes from year to year. 

While KidsView will continue to grow and change, some things will stay the same. It will be Christ-centered, and kid-centric. Lisa Poirier agrees: “I think it’s important for kids to be involved, because it gives you an idea of what interests them. Kidsview is designed for kids, and it tells many stories of what’s going on around the world and in other kids’ lives.”

As Salazar says: “Kids do not have very many opportunities where their ideas are put to use. Kids also have a knack for imagination and creative thinking; they have a way of transforming simple notions into powerful actions that leave long-lasting impressions on those around them.” KidsView will continue our partnership with children, keeping content vibrant, spiritual, educational, and fun.

And what of the advisory boards? Though KidsView has taken a hiatus from them in the past few years, as mentioned, they will be bringing the board back this school year. And perhaps one day soon they’ll use video-conferencing technology to include more children from around the world in the process. Even at 10 years old, in many ways the KidsView team feels that they’ve only just begun. 

1 To be fair to the children and the process, the KidsView team still had students think up names, and they’d reveal “KidsView” at the close of discussion.
2 Bonita Joyner Shields, editor of the Sabbath School Bible Study Guides for children and youth ages 10-18, worked tirelessly on generating content and seeking out donors, as KidsView is a self-funded publication.
3 Because of the September Week of Prayer issue, KidsView wasn’t in its usual place, which is the last Review of the month.
4 The first members were Caprice Brathwaite, Brent Dorsey, Meagan Hess, Jonathan Jacobs, Evan Knott, Charmaine Leonard, Sara Rose, Darius Thibodeaux, and Christopher Urquiaga.

Wilona Karimabadi, an assistant editor of Adventist Review, is editorial and marketing director of KidsView. Kimberly Luste Maran is an assistant editor of Adventist Review and content editor of KidsView.