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Children at Fort Drum meet Sesame Street's Katie, a military kid like them

Julia Botero
Katie is a miitary kid and Sesame Street's character meant to relate to children of military families

Families in the military move a lot. On average, a military child will change schools six to nine times before they finish high school. Making new friends and leaving old ones is hard on kids. Enter Sesame Street. Elmo, Cookie Monster and friends are traveling to military basis across the country to help young kids cope with a big move.

The recent show inside a Fort Drum gymnasium kicks off with who else? Elmo.

The red furry muppet leads a crowd of screaming 3-year-olds in a version of the electric slide – the Elmo slide. This isn’t a puppet show. Someone is inside the this life-sized Elmo suit, dancing. Parents join in. Some are in their Army fatigues.

After the warm-up, we’re introduced to Katie, a military kid. She’s a muppet, too, but looks more like a little girl than a furry animal. She’s purple, with orange hair. Katie tells Elmo and Grover she’s moving with her family to a new base.

“I’m going to miss this place and especially I’m going to miss all of you,” Katie said.

Grover chimes in with some advice: “Just because you’re far away doesn’t mean we can’t be friends, Katie, he said. Wherever you are we can still be friends.”

Sesame Street is doing what they do best – representing a situation meant to teach kids a lesson. Jenna Larson, with Sesame Street, said song and dance is an effective way to get through to young children.

“They get to really hear the lyric that is in the songs what Elmo is saying. And Elmo is just like them. Elmo is that three year old boy. So when Elmo is out there and he said something the kids believe it,” Larson said.

“I would have loved this as a kid,” said Justin Gamerl who grew up in a military family. He’s a former Marine and designed the show’s set.

Credit Julia Botero / WRVO News
Sesame Street is bringing live performances like this one onto military bases across the country.

“I can’t tell you how many conversations I had with my mom or my dad, about we are moving to a new base, why, we just got here. The idea of what happens to your old friends. How do I maintain my friends..what do I do? I can write letters, I can use Skype which is great and they talk about that,” said Gamerl.

Josie Terry is carrying her newborn. She just arrived at Fort Drum from California. Terry’s oldest daughter, Elyn, is two. She’s a little young to understand this last move, but Terry knows this is only the beginning for her kids.

“I think with the characters and stuff the visual part of it makes it happy but at the same time it said this is our life we move every two years,” said Terry.

Kristy Henderson is here with her three young boys. They’ve been at Fort Drum for a year.

“We went through one move and it went pretty good so hopefully this helps because we’ll be gone again in a year,” said Henderson.

Sesame Street started tackling some real-life issues after September 11, right before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Now, there are online videos, apps and live shows created especially for military children. They touch on deployment and transitioning out of the Army.

Credit Julia Botero / WRVO News
The power of song and dance helps young children retain information, according to Sesame Street production manager Jenna Larson

Today, lots of parents have dressed their kids in shirts and hats that read USO – United Services Organization. The group teamed up with Sesame Street to bring this show to the base. Karen Clark is with the USO.

“There are so many shows and programs out there that focus on the service member but the families serve too. To have furry creatures that they watch on television speak to their very needs, what they are going through is impactful,”said Clark.

After a few inspirational song and dance numbers, Katie is feeling better about her move.

“I’m so happy that we are all friends but I’ll know we’ll always stay in touch,” Katie said.

Before leaving the stage, Elmo, Grover, Cookie Monster and Katie, the muppet, descend into the crowd and start giving out hugs to a room full of pumped-up kids. This show will be back at Fort Drum next year.