HAMPSTEAD — TV Busters they were. Sixth-graders at North Carroll Middle School eliminated 997 hours of television from their diet last month.
"It was pretty hard," conceded Adam Boog, an 11-year-old from Manchester who gave up the boob tube for 10 nights. "I missed some of my best shows, like 'True Colors' and 'In Living Color.' "
Adam, son of Fred and Debbie Boog, was one of about 100 pupils atthe Hampstead school who chose activities other than television lastmonth. (They were allowed to watch news or educational shows.)
They were participating in TV Busters, a voluntary program to help youths reduce television viewing.
Some 39,000 students in 42 states eliminated television from their diet last month, said Pat Marker, a fifth-grade teacher who started the program five years ago in his Minnesota classroom.
"It's a positive program," he said. "It's simple enough that anybody can run it in any school."
Each October morning, pupils handed in a busters slip signed by their parents that statedwhat they did in lieu of TV. The slips became raffle tickets to win prizes like books, T-shirts and ice cream.
Amy Davidson, a 10-year-old from Hampstead, turned in 18 slips to carry home a slew of prizes, including a pass to a school skating party.
Giving up television was pretty easy, she said. She chose to do homework and read instead of watching favorite shows like "Full House."
"It's pretty easy if you have something to do," said Amy, the daughter of Gary and Sherl Davidson.
Sixth-grade math teacher Judy Gehr coordinated the school's program after learning about TV Busters last year in an educational journal.
"Television seems to be one of education's enemies almost," she said. "Kids rush through their homework to watch TV. Theydon't choose to read and broaden themselves in other ways. They havea real hang-up with television."
Only about 7 percent of the 110 sixth-graders declined to participate, she said. She found that the participants who did tune in watched programs on public television andNational Geographic specials.
"We allowed them to watch Jeopardy," she said. "We figured they could learn some things. There is value in TV, if you're choosy and don't overdo it."
Peggy Charren, president of Action for Children's Television, an advocacy group for better children's programming, commended TV Busters, noting that it offered incentives for parents and children to find more worthwhile television.
"Television isn't the problem," she said. "It's when kids spend too much time watching television."
Both Gehr and fellow sixth-grade teacher Donald Abbey were pleased by the response and enthusiasm. They found that students read more, worked on crafts and did things with their families.
"For 997 hours, these kids found other activities to do," Abbey said. "It was a close competition."
Judy Gehr's homeroom class won, getting a pizza party Friday, compliments of Nick's Pizza in Hampstead.
Gehr and the sixth-grade teaching team plan to try the program again in April. Schools across the nation willparticipate then, as well.
"I think most parents would agree children watch too much television," Gehr said.