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CANA Foundation Helps Young Explorers

Recently the CANA Foundation, CANA’s “give back” arm, helped the Johnstown Area Heritage Association (JAHA) and a group of teachers and students create a young reader's book to explore the laurel highlands of Pennsylvania and learn about its rich history, while also learning about some of the modern environmental issues that concern us today in that region.

The book itself was made possible by a grant from National Geographic (NatGEO) Education to JAHA to produce and publish an educational children's book based on the ASK Learning Framework with themes of curiosity, responsibility, and empowerment. The initial credit and development efforts go to National Geographic Certified Local Educator Dr. Aspen B. Mock who brought the idea to JAHA to try for the grant. After being awarded the grant, Dr. Mock reached out to several of the local school districts in the area to see who would want to be involved. From that outreach, three local schools joined in the effort: Greater Johnstown School District (GJSD), Forest Hills School District (FHSD), and Bishop McCort High School (BMHS). Each school brought a small team of students who volunteered to be involved with the book's creation.

So, how does one organize and collaborate with groups of kids from three different schools at the end of the school year to create a children's book?

To accomplish it, JAHA first had a few online ZOOM meetings with the teachers to describe the process we would be using to allow as many kids to work on the creation of the book as possible. First, the basic idea of the book was drafted by Dr. Mock so the high school teachers and kids had a great starting point and could collaborate and develop the story further. The direction for that teacher-student mentoring was based around the NatGEO ASK Learning Framework. For that mentoring collaboration, the team mostly used the Slack ( chat and collaboration app for story development and idea exchanges, and for the storage and sharing of the story development files, photographs, and artwork, we used a shared Google Drive folder.

After the general story was laid out, the story was divided out, and each school was given a section/s of the story to refine further. This is the point at which graphic artist Koa Beam, on loan from CANA via their CANA Foundation outreach efforts, met with the student online to help the kids develop a standard look for the children's book; help them develop the model sheets for each of the main characters in the book; and describe the whole production process that was being used. When needed, Koa gave illustration, storyboarding, and layout tutorials to the students and teachers both online and in an in-person workshop at the Heritage Discovery Center.

"We took an almost animation studio or comic-book style production pipeline style of working on the book." ~ Koa Beam

Using that style of production approach would allow the workload to be spread out and let kids work on things at the same time without having to wait for one particular artist to complete something before they could get involved. The kids designed the main characters with a little input from the teachers and based on the example character look and feel they had chosen. They then storyboarded out what would happen in their sections of the book. Based on those storyboards, some kids drew the characters in various poses needed for the story.

At the same time, other kids drew the backgrounds that would be needed and could be repurposed for the various scenes in each section throughout the book. Then, as the pencil artwork was finished, it could either be inked by the same student or passed on to another student. After inking the pencil artwork the colors were done on a completely different piece of paper using markers by other students.

This approach was something new for the kids, but they did a great job. After the students finished all the artwork, the graphic artist consultant touched up the artwork where needed, combined all the art with the backgrounds in Photoshop, and laid it all out with the written text for production. Before the final book was published, we used PowerPoint as the collaboration tool to do the draft final draft.

Then, the layouts and story edits were put together in Adobe InDesign and sent off to the publisher for printing. They were also posted online in a digital flipbook format and made available as a standard PDF. The book was designed with the knowledge that it would be an ebook and a hardcopy book that would be made available to the local area elementary schools to incorporate as desired into their curricula.

In the end, this socially distanced, diverse, group of teachers and students took a collaborative journey and completed an educational children's book over the locked-down summer break - all while learning a bit about book development, production, publishing, and, finally, releasing that book to the world.

If you are in the Johnstown area or are interested in "The Laurel Highlands Explorers" book, you can attend the release event at the Heritage Discovery Center in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, on December 12th, 2021, at 3:00 PM. In addition to the physical book, there will be a chance to view the digital exhibit: The Laurel Highlands Explorers Digital Exhibit: The Journey Behind the Book. The storyline of the book, which has a target audience of elementary school-age children, was inspired by a real-life exploration of the Laurel Highlands by the students and their teacher mentors. The story features well-known locations, symbols, and more, from Johnstown, including the Wagner-Ritter House, Morley’s Dog, and the Conemaugh River…with otters. For more information on the book visit the JAHA website at

If you are interested in how CANA or the CANA Foundation can help your organization, visit


Koa Beam is our Lead Graphic Artist here at CANA. You can contact Koa at

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1 Comment

Alissa Hasia
Alissa Hasia
Dec 22, 2023

Wow, this is amazing. It's great to help the younger generation. It is very difficult at the beginning of the journey, so you need help and support. Personally, I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't had help with my fellowship statement in a timely manner. It is very important to have timely help. When we become adults, it is difficult for us in everything because everything is unfamiliar and new to us. I'm very inspired that there are so many help resources nowadays.

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