Until last spring, most students at Harper's Choice Middle School inColumbia paid little attention to their morning school announcements, and few claimed to keep up with current events, students say.
But a new program, the brainchild of several gifted and talented students at the school, may be changing that.
Ask the students about morning announcements this year and they'll tell you about "Wake Up, Harper's Choice," a morning television program they produce from their own Harper's Choice TV.
The only program of its kind in county schools, the show is entirely the work of students, who conduct interviews, write scripts, operate cameras, anchor the news and do everything else necessary to produce the eight-minute show.
A group of 20 students will produce 180 episodes this school year with the help of fellow classmates and teachers, who provide a steady source of story ideas for HCTV's closed-circuit program.
"The other students are excited to see their peers on TV and to seethemselves on TV," said Principal Jesse G. Scharff. "They're also excited about the possibility that they may have an opportunity to be apart of HCTV."
The students set about their task by seeking money, said Rick Frankle, the teacher who supervises the program. They collected more than $2,000 in grants and donations of equipment from theHoward County PTA, the Washington Post and Westinghouse, Frankle said.
They also spoke with television production professionals, researched how to run a broadcast, and arranged for some Baltimore cabinetmakers to donate time and supplies to construct a set. The result wasan impressive studio.
On Feb. 4, they broadcast the first show.
It's Monday morning, Oct. 7. The HCTV production crew has gathered in its studio, which doubles as the resource center for the gifted and talented program. Two televisions serving as monitors sit on top of a study table in the corner. Atop each is a videocassette recorder and in one of them a tape has been cued, ready to be played when the signal is given.
The producer and several script writers arrive by 7:25 a.m. this and every school day to make final preparations.
The last changes to the script have been made, and everyone has a copy. As show time nears, the students take their places. Each has a title and the responsibilities to go with it. At 8:25 the show begins, going out to each of the homerooms in the school.
"Good morning and welcome to "Wake Up, Harper's Choice." I'm James Farrar," says one anchor.
"And I'm Cherise Williams," says the other.
The show draws together a medley of stories from various sources. The studentsread local newspapers and watch TV news programs for the latest national and sports information. Their top stories include the Orioles' last game at Memorial Stadium, an update on hostage Terry Anderson, and Elizabeth Taylor's wedding. Students also hear about the school's annual book fair and the names of students celebrating birthdays.
Reporters scour the school daily searching for interesting class activities and conducting interviews. There also are special segments like"Our New Friends," which spotlights new students to the school, and "Spectrum," which features important issues in a point-counterpoint forum.
Any student in the school can submit a story to HCTV, says Frankle. The HCTV crew and studio are available to anyone, in keeping with the original intent of the show's founders.
Alexandra Roe, 13, the program's director, tells the camera operators what to do, monitors the sound level, and directs the show while it is on the air. Kara Bland, 12, is the show's producer and works with the reporters, conducts the production meeting and assembles each show.
In their positions just one month, the girls, both eighth-graders, have faced some mishaps. Roe recalls that the first day of school was pretty bad.
"Everyone was nervous and it (the show) just went wrong," said Roe, throwing up both hands.
During another program they lost sound, but tracked the problem to a loose wire.
The show is running a lotsmoother now, both said, and they are concentrating on ways to improve it. Roe says she'd like to add humor, like the kind of high-spirited camaraderie on Channel 13 with Don Scott and Marty Bass. Bland says she's also considering adding weather or a weekend activities schedule to the show.
Scharff said he has noticed a change in the students since HCTV was introduced. The students are excited about coming to school and are more creative with their school assignments, he said.
Students are completing a study to determine what classmates think of the program.
The success of HCTV has sparked an interest inat least one other county school. Last spring, three months after HCTV was launched, students from Mount Hebron High School visited Harper's Choice to learn how the broadcast facility was set up, said MountHebron Principal Edgar Markley.
This year, the Mount Hebron students are laying the groundwork for their own program, writing grant proposals and learning what's involved in running a TV program. There is no broadcast target date yet because of uncertain funding for the equipment, said Markley. But the students hope to get a studio up and working sometime this year, he said.
When the show finally gets off the ground, Frankle will be one of its biggest supporters.
"It would be nice to have a sister station," Frankle said. "Then if we have a good tape we could send it to them of if they had one, they couldsend it to us," he said.