In general, the game development classes offered at County College of Morris (CCM), as elsewhere, consist of a predominantly young, male demographic. Two years ago, Lois Mancuso, a mother and grandmother of four, became an outlier.
“I didn’t know what my classmates were thinking,” says Mancuso, of Morris Township, who was a student in the Game Design course. “Why is this grandma learning digital technology?”
Fifteen years ago, Mancuso began attending CCM as a personal pursuit to develop art and computer skills. Never did she imagine that she would end up applying her education to develop her own computer program, The Kangaroo Crew, a project of Whisper Productions Inc. that consists of apps designed to help children learn to read.
Mancuso, a former high school teacher, first came up with the idea while volunteering for a literacy program in Newark. In her 14 years of volunteering, she observed that students who cannot read by the fourth grade encounter serious educational roadblocks. Her concern sparked the idea to create an interactive reading program to help children become familiar with the alphabet and reading before they even enter school.
“I didn’t have too many people to propose this idea to, but myself,” says Mancuso. “I started with paper and a pencil. As a result of taking classes at CCM, I knew how to draw a story board.”
The Kangaroo Crew was originally an activity booklet accompanied by an animated computer disk. Once touchscreen devices became prevalent, Mancuso decided to update her program so it could be widely available on the App Store and on Google Play.
Mancuso took an array of classes at CCM to help accomplish her goal including photography, graphic design, painting, Spanish, typography and her favorite course, Game Design with Professor Stan Wasilewski.
“Professor Wasilewski introduced me to the power of gaming and animation,” says Mancuso. “I sat at a computer and made these characters move across the screen and that was it! I was in love. I found the appeal of combining learning with technology and it was magic.”
The Kangaroo Crew is based in Morristown and the program has been downloaded in places as far as Africa, Asia, Canada and India. It has been a successful educational tool for preschoolers and also for families where English is a second language.
“The Kangaroo Crew can help a child, and the key word is love, to read,” says Mancuso. “Gaining these skills at a very early age provides a youngster with a tremendous advantage.”
To learn more about the program, visit www.kangaroocrew.com
to preview the games or download the apps directly through the App Store or Google Play by searching “Kangaroo Crew.”