A group of Maryland students have been reading comic books in the classroom—with the teacher's blessing. Since 2006, more than 500 third-graders have taken part in Comics in the Classroom, a pilot educational program that uses classic Disney comics to teach reading and writing skills. The program has been so successful that the Maryland State Department of Education is planning to dramatically expand the pilot's reach.

A collaborative effort among the MSDE, Disney Worldwide Publishing and Diamond Comics Distributors, Comics in the Classroom distributed 10 educational “tool kits”to eight schools in January 2006. Each tool kit included two Disney periodical comics and 10 lesson plans focusing on different reading and writing skills that culminate in a comic created by each student. Last week, MDSE announced plans to expand the program and send out another 200 tool kits.

Pictured (l. to r.) at a press conference in Baltimore to announce the expansion of Comics in the Classroom are Steve Geppi, CEO Diamond Comic Distributors; Darla Strouse, Maryland State Department of Education; Nancy Grasmick, superintendent, MSDE; John Snyder, president, Diamond International Galleries; and JonathanYaged, v-p, U.S. publisher, Disney Publishing Worldwide

John Yaged, v-p, U.S. publisher of Disney Worldwide, said the program began from discussions between MSDE and Disney's education department. The comics feature classic Disney characters Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. The initial program involved 549 third-graders and ran from January to May 2006. All lesson plans were based on standards set out in the Maryland State reading and writing curriculum. “We got very positive feedback and suggestions on how to make it better,” Yaged said.

In a phone interview, Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick had high praise for the program, particularly its effect on boys, who are often reluctant readers. “Boys will often choose nontraditional reading materials like comics,” Grasmick said, “but we think the program benefits all levels of young readers.” Grasmick was also impressed with Disney/Hyperion's graphic novel program and said that a later phase of the program will include “a larger universe of schools” and add book format comics.

“It's really inspiring to see how comics can help kids learn,” said Yaged. “Words together with art can really spur the imagination, and kids end up learning without even thinking about it.”