(Philly.com) Walk into Caroline Black’s house and you’ll find a shrine to the technology of television.
The Crooked Billet Elementary School fourth grader has at her disposal three cable-ready TVs, two VCRs and two Nintendo video game systems, most of which normally would be on simultaneously.
“I turn the TV on when I get home and it stays on until I go to bed,” Caroline, 10, said of her routine. “I even do my homework while watching it.”
But Caroline’s screens were blank this month.
In February, Caroline and about 90 percent of the children at the Hatboro- Horsham district school just said no to television as part of the “TV Busters” challenge, which ends today.
TV Busters is a nationwide program that more than 200 schools in 42 states have used to pry students away from the tube and get them to read more.
As part of the challenge, Crooked Billet asked its students in all its grades, kindergarten through fifth, to stop watching television this month. Sort of. The ban did not cover the news, educational programming on PBS and the Discovery Channel during the week, or anything on the weekend.
“It’s really been hard for me, since I have a television in my room,” Caroline said. “I mean, before, I used to skip some of my dancing school classes, because I didn’t want to miss some of my favorite shows.”
According to a school profile gathered through the Pennsylvania Assessment System Exam, 60 percent of Crooked Billet students watch three or more hours of television a night, which is slightly higher than the state average. And like Caroline, 15 percent watch more than five hours a night.
“To me, watching TV two or three hours a night is too much,” said principal Nancy Bobkoskie. “If you think about when these kids go home and when they go to bed, they probably have no more than five hours of free time. And spending two of them watching TV is not very good.
“Our goal was to decrease the time our kids watch TV and to make them more selective in the things they watch. And we’re real pleased with the way it’s been going.”
Fourth-grade teacher Jane Lester said, “The impact in the classroom has been terrific. We’ve seen a significant increase in reading among the children.”
Lester and Karen Locke first offered the TV Busters challenge to their fourth-grade classes last year.
A number of children said they played cards, rediscovered board games and actually talked to siblings. And they were given some rewards, such as extra recess time, for their participation.
“Sometimes I want more homework, since I want something to do with all this time,” said fourth grader Katy Michael.
Jane Michael, Katy’s mother, said she had noticed that Katy and her younger brother Ben were getting along better “because they need each other for entertainment.”
Of course, parents also have had to endure life without television. Katy’s mother said she was a bit miffed to learn that TV Busters would take place in February, during one of the ratings “sweeps” period.
“But I think the idea is just great,” she said.
Said another mother, Paula Greninger, “I think I’ve had more withdrawal than my daughter.”
Video Off At Home, On At School, To Further Learning
School’s Monthlong “TV Busters” Challenge Was A Family Affair.
February 28, 1993
By Paul J. Lim, INQUIRER CORRESPONDENT