PBS Counting On Connecticut Fifth Grader In New Show 'Peg + Cat'

Every other week or so, fifth-grader Hayley Faith Negrin of Weston hops on a Metro North train with her mom after school and heads to a studio in Brooklyn.

Somewhere along the way, the perky 10-year-old becomes the even perkier and younger voice of the newest PBS kids show "Peg + Cat," which premieres on Oct. 7.

The new animated math series may concentrate on the solutions to real-life math problems, but it also includes such whimsical turns as the talking-cat companion of the title and a pig who sings opera.

Her professional bio says she has "been singing, dancing and entertaining from an early age," and her professional career began when she was discovered at an audition for a TV ad for Verizon Fios when she was 7.

Did you see her?

"I had ketchup and mustard on me and I say 'Can I have a napkin'?"

She says a lot more as Peg on "Peg + Cat."

"They send me my lines and the songs online and I go over them," Hayley says in a phone interview after the school year had just begun.

There are plenty of songs in the series, co-created by Billy Aronson and Jennifer Oxley for the Fred Rogers Company. Part of Aronson's credits are providing the original concept and additional lyrics for the Broadway musical "Rent."

The singing is usually the biggest hurdle for the young actress.

"If I do it good we don't have to do it over again," Hayley says. "But if I do the wrong note, I have to do two or three times. The music is already in the animation. I need to match it."

But the producers can't say enough about Hayley's work.

In fact, when they presented the show to reporters at the TV Critics Association summer press tour in Beverly Hills in August, they took the unusual move of showing her audition tape.

"Hayley wowed us so much in her audition," says Lesli Rotenberg, general manager of children's programming at PBS, that she almost got the job on the spot. "Hayley stood out as the perfect Peg."

Yet despite the show's focus on numbers, Hayley admits, "actually in school, math is not my favorite. But when I do 'Peg + Cat,' it's not just plain math … it's fun, so I really enjoy it."

And she's learning things: "Like I learned what infinity means. All these things that I wouldn't have learned if I wasn't Peg."

"Peg + Cat," funded by a grant from the Department of Education and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, "demonstrates that math is a great tool to help solve problems, and it's fun," says Rothenberg. "We see this as essential, given the dire need for early math skills among America's children.

"Sixty percent of our nation's fourth¿graders are not meeting math proficiency standards," she says. "And this issue is even more pronounced in low-income communities. And with a snappy young heroine as its star, 'Peg + Cat' adds a positive role model for girls who are less likely than boys to pursue math in higher education."

Rotenberg says research shows that girls start to doubt their own abilities to succeed in math as early as second grade, and that they're less likely to explore careers in math.

"We aim to change all that with Peg. She's the perfect character to inspire confidence in math skills in every child, especially young girls."