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First lady Jill Biden visits Philadelphia for launch of Nickelodeon’s animated civics show

President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden walk to board Air Force One at Delaware Air National Guard Base in New Castle, Del. on Monday. The Bidens are returning to the White House after spending the weekend at their Delaware home. Associated Press

When it comes to civics class, gone are the days of Schoolhouse Rock!’s “I’m Just a Bill.”

First lady Jill Biden visited the Independence Visitors Center on Friday to launch "Well Versed," a new animated civics show on Nickelodeon. The short-form, musical program aims to teach children about democracy and the U.S. Bill of Rights.

A new generation of civics entertainment has arrived while United States citizens are flailing when it comes to understanding the basic functions of government.

A host of statistics point to a decline in basic civics knowledge; perhaps the most alarming was the result of a 2019 Annenberg Public Policy Center poll that found one in five Americans could not name a single branch of government .

Biden, a longtime educator and native of the Philadelphia region, was in full teacher mode as she spoke to a class of fifth graders from the General George A. McCall School, touching on the importance of democracy and the ideals the Founding Fathers forged at nearby Independence Hall.

“At the Constitutional Convention, our founders created a government that was a little revolutionary at the time — a democracy, where power was given to the people, not to kings, and not to queens,” Biden said.

“That’s still how our government works, and it’s one of the things that makes our government so special,” the first lady continued. “When we understand civics — how our government works, and how to hold it accountable — we’re able to make each other and our country the best it can be.”

Biden was joined by Brian Robbins, president and CEO of Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon, and Shari Redstone, chair of Paramount Global, as well as Matthew Segal, co-CEO of the media company ATTN.

A prerecorded message from former first lady Laura Bush offered support for the show from the Bushes’ institute, while U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., sat in the front row.

In a special screening of "Well Versed," before Biden’s remarks — timed for Friday’s National Civics Day — the Center City schoolchildren bobbed their heads while the show’s civics heroes, with spunky purple and pink hair, rap-rhymed constitutional amendments and battled with an evil king threatening the democratic will of the people.

“For too long we’ve seen content around civics look more like something from 30 years ago than something kids want to watch made in 2023,” said Segal, of ATTN.

Among other concerning figures offered by Segal: Only seven U.S. states have a middle school civics requirement. Last year, he said, eighth-grade civics scores declined for the first time in more than two decades.

The lessons for "Well Versed" were created in partnership with iCivics, a national nonprofit founded by former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor that develops free nonpartisan online games and resources designed to help young Americans learn about civic life. As many as 145,000 educators and 9 million students use iCivics material each year, according to the company.

“Our style at Nick is never to talk down to kids,” said Robbins. “We always want to talk to them, have a conversation, listen to them. That tradition continues with Well Versed,'”

The screening was a welcome escape from the McCall classroom at Seventh and Panama Streets. The outing, however, didn’t come without a little homework.

Following the screening, the first lady quizzed a brave trio of students; questions included naming the branches of government, as well as the big, white building in Washington where her husband, Joe, spends much of his time.

Despite the troubling statistics Segal offered earlier, the students aced the first lady’s test. Their social studies teacher, Audrey Russell, watched proudly from the audience.

“Thank you to our first lady, Mrs. Biden, for her support of civics education,” Russell said. 'Well Versed,' will be a fantastic tool for educators.”

And in typical Nickelodeon fashion, the fun ended with a slimy surprise.

To the joyous screams of their classmates, the trio of pupils was doused with green slime that oozed down from buckets held above their heads.

The first lady took a big step back to avoid any collateral sludge.

“I can’t even look,” Biden said with a laugh.

———

Fans and celebs flooded social media with tributes to the late “Friends” star Matthew Perry, who was found dead Saturday afternoon at his Los Angeles-area home.

“What a loss.The world will miss you Mathew Perry. The joy you brought to so many in your too short lifetime will live on. I feel so very blessed by every creative moment we shared,” wrote actress Maggie Wheeler, who played Chandler’s on-and-off girlfriend on “Friends,” in a post to her Instagram.

Actress and author Selma Blair posted to Instagram, calling Perry her “oldest boy friend.”

“I want to leave Matthew Perry’s own words here as the way we remember him,” said Mira Sorvino, who starred alongside Perry in the 1994 TV movie “Parallel Lives.” The actress shared a statement from before he passed.

Law enforcement sources said the 54-year-old was found unresponsive inside a hot tub , around 4 p.m. when authorities arrived at his residence, and that no drugs were found at the scene, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Later in the evening, as police blocked off the entrance to Blue Sail Drive, where Perry lived in the Pacific Palisades, his stepfather, broadcaster Keith Morrison, arrived at the scene to comfort his mother Suzanne and father, John Bennett Perry.

No foul play is suspected, but the Los Angeles Police Department’s robbery-homicide detectives are investigating Perry’s death, and the county coroner’s office is expected to release an official cause of death at a later date.

Morgan Fairchild, who played Chandler’s mother, Nora, on “Friends,” posted on X, “I’m heartbroken about the untimely death of my “son”, Matthew Perry. The loss of such a brilliant young actor is a shock.”

“I’m sending love & condolences to his friends & family, especially his dad, John Bennett Perry, who I worked with on Flamingo Road & Falcon Crest. #RIPMatthew,” she added.

Paget Brewster, who had a six-episode arc on the show, wrote “I’m so very sad to hear about @MatthewPerry. He was lovely to me on Friends and every time I saw him in the decades after. Please read his book. It was his legacy to help. He won’t rest in peace though ... He’s already too busy making everyone laugh up there.”

Yvette Nicole Brown, who acted alongside Perry in “The Odd Couple,” wrote in a tribute, “Our #OddCouple family suffered a great loss today. The entire entertainment world has. I am too sad about the news to say more than this: @mattyperry4 was a sweetheart who deserved more peace in this life. 54 is too young to go. We love you, Matty! #RIPMatthewPerry.”

“Friends” fans also took to X to show how much Perry’s work meant to them.

“Rest in peace to the man who played one of my favorite characters of all time,” one fan wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Matthew Perry was able to put a smile on my face when no one else could, and I’ll remember his impact he had on me and his legacy forever.”

“Watching ‘Friends’ for the first time and falling in love with Chandler Bing is something I will forever hold dearly,” said another admirer. “One of the best characters on television, and one of the best actors to play it. I’m beyond distraught. Matthew Perry was too young. This is heartbreaking.”

———

A wrongful death lawsuit filed on behalf of Aaron Carter’s toddler, 23-month-old Princeton Lyric, blames doctors and pharmacies for his father’s drug-induced drowning last year.

The “I Want Candy” crooner died in the bathtub of his California home the morning of Nov. 5, 2022. His housekeeper found him fully submerged in water and immediately phoned 911.

The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner later listed his cause of death as drowning under the effects of Xanax and inhaling difluoroethane.

According to Prince’s lawsuit — filed by his mother and Carter’s fiancee, Melanie Martin — doctors prescribed the singer hydrocodone, oxycodone and alprazolam with no medical justification. They were also aware of Carter’s “mental health and psychiatric condition,” but still opted to write him the prescriptions, TMZ reported.

What’s more, Walgreens, one of several defendants named in the suit, should have taken issue with giving Carter opioids when considering the quantities and his past struggles with addiction.

Carter was open about his issues. He previously admitted his sister Leslie, who died from an overdose in 2012, introduced him to huffing — the practice of inhaling fumes from household items.

“Started when I was about 16,” he said on an episode of “The Doctors.”

Carter also revealed that after his stint on “Dancing with the Stars” in 2009, he started going to Staples and Office Depot to purchase inhalants, “buying it with cash so it wouldn’t be reported on receipts or anything like that, so no one could trace me.”

“I was huffing because I was really f—ing stupid and sad, but this is really no excuse,” he added. “I was huffing because I’m a drug addict.”

Carter, the younger brother of Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, shot to fame at just 9 years old, following the release of his self-titled debut album in 1997. His follow-up album, 2000’s “Aaron’s Party (Come Get It),” sold over 3 million copies in the U.S.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

From combined wire services

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