TV-Turnoff Week apparently no turnoff at Manor Woods

Pupils at elementary plan to shun their shows

April 22, 1999|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

They said they were excited. They said they were ready. But when Manor Woods Elementary School Principal John Morningstar showed them he had rigged their school television to broadcast only snow, the 200 fourth- and fifth-graders sitting on the school gymnasium floor gasped in horror.

Later, they all raised their hands, saying they would participate in National TV-Turnoff Week. It is the Ellicott City school's fourth year of participation in the program. While televisions are off, the children record and show their parents and teachers what they have been doing instead of watching TV.

"When you turn off the TV, the idea is that you do something else," said Dr. David Satcher, the U.S. surgeon general, who was at Manor Woods yesterday with Shirley Robinson Watkins, undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state Sen. Christopher J. McCabe and the project's founder, Henry Labalme.

The guests, who addressed the pupils in the gym, said children are watching too much television, which leads to problems such as obesity and less interaction with others.

"Children are consuming more calories, and more of them are obese. This is the beginning of the work we are planning to do to address that," Watkins said. "We are hopeful we can come up with ways to encourage students to participate in more physical activity."

Officials at TV-Free America, the 5-year-old organization that designed the program, estimate the average American watches television three hours and 46 minutes a day; 81 percent of fourth-graders watch more than 14 hours a week.

"We thought, `Wouldn't it be cool if the whole country didn't watch TV for a week?' " Labalme said.

Satcher suggested that the children play soccer, dance, start a garden or jump rope. The children were fairly confident they could turn off the tube because they planned their own activities, including jumping on a neighbor's trampoline or surfing the Internet.

"I like playing board games a lot," said Luke Beckmann, 11, the Student Council president. "I'll probably see if my family will play with me."

The children said that part of the reason they watch TV is because they feel there is nothing else to do.

"Sometimes I watch because I am really bored," said fifth-grader Lauren Remsay, 11.

Watkins said officials decided to come to Manor Woods because it has participated in the program since its inception, and many students become involved. Last year, about 75 percent of the school's fourth- and fifth-graders participated.

Watkins gave the pupils a workbook that illustrates a healthy diet, how to measure servings of food as well as fitness tips. If they successfully complete the challenge, McCabe will present the pupils with a proclamation May 24 from the state Senate, and Watkins will pay for a free school lunch.

Pub Date: 4/22/99

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