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Teachers, administrators urging middle schoolers to turn off TV for a week

Craig Chamberlain, News Editor
217-333-2894; cdchambe@illinois.edu

4/13/2005

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Students at Urbana Middle School are being encouraged to turn off their televisions for one week at the end of April. They’re also learning how to be wiser about what they watch, with help from teachers, administrators and the College of Communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The middle school’s “TV-Turnoff Week” is set for April 25 to May 1, in conjunction with National TV-Turnoff Week (www.tvturnoff.org/week.htm), held annually since 1995. Television can cut into family time, harm children’s ability to read and succeed in school, and contribute to unhealthy lifestyles and obesity, according to the Web site for the TV-Turnoff Network, which organizes the national event.

Those concerns and others helped spur the middle school to organize an effort of its own, complete with media literacy lessons incorporated into the curriculum and an after-school class taught by doctoral students at Illinois.

Leading a group of school staff in planning the initiative have been Barbara Linder, community connections coordinator at UMS, and Amy Aidman, a UMS parent and assistant dean in the College of Communications. They began planning activities in December, and Aidman presented a talk in January to school administrators and teachers on the issue of children and media, a focus of her own research.

The group developed lessons on media literacy and has worked with teachers to incorporate those lessons into the curriculum during the weeks leading up to TV-Turnoff Week. “I think we have created a unique, interesting curriculum that will engage our students and help them perform a miracle: turning off their TVs,” said Mark Foley, an eighth-grade social studies and reading teacher who is a member of the group.

Another offering has been an after-school class, “Creating Media About Media,” taught by David Monje, a doctoral student in the Institute of Communications Research, and Maria Lovett, a doctoral student in art education in the School of Art and Design. Students in the course have been learning more about the media and creating video materials and posters to publicize TV-Turnoff Week to their peers, Aidman said.

The week will begin April 25, from 6 to 8 p.m., with a “Family Fun Night” of games and activities in the Urbana Middle School gym, 1201 S. Vine St., Urbana. Included among the activities, organized with help from the Urbana Park District, will be a parent-child two-on-two basketball tournament and a kite-making clinic. Students and families from other schools also are welcome to attend.

If the week is successful, Linder said, the organizers may look at how the program can be expanded to other schools in the district. Aidman said she sees possibilities for the college to get its students more involved in working with the schools on media literacy education. She also thinks the collaboration holds promise for a research project, such as tracking the impact of reduced media exposure.