The floor director at television station WDUF adjusted his head set, nervously watched the moving second hand of the overhead clock, flicked the trailing electronic cable connected to the studio booth away from him and gave the final count to his broadcast news team.
"Three, two, one!" he called, pointing his finger at the anchorman as if his arm are starting gun.
"Good morning, my name is Steve Reichert, and this is WDUP news," the anchorman intoned into camera No. 2, as he launched into a preview of the day's show.
Then, instead of pausing for a commercial, he asked his viewers to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Reichert, an 11-year-old sixth grader at Dufiet Elementary Shcool in Montgomery County, is one of thousands of elementary and junior high school students in the Washington metropolitan area who are using sophiscated electronic broadcasting equipment on a regular basis during school hours. They write, produce, direct and air television programs of their own creation.
The programs are shown on closed circuit monitors for viewing by schoolmates, usually in home rooms.
The picture is much the same nationally, according to a spokesman for the National Education Association. "The kids who are in the first grade now will live half their lives in the 21st century, an age of increasing technology," said James B. Judd, assistant dirctor of the department of educational media and technology for the Montgomery County school system.
"We've got to teach kids that technology is not magical, that is something they can control, not something that only controls them. And electronic equipment is also the latest tool on hand, and we've got to use every tool we've got," he said.
Television equipment for student use has existed for the last 10 years, according to Judd.
In Montgomery County, 45 schools, including 19 elementary schools, have full television studios, Judd said. A full studio includes at least one camera, microphones and tape recording machines, with the cost ranging from $6,000 to $15,000, he said.
Other area school jurisdictions also are increasingly using electronic equipment:
At Randolp Elementary school in Arlington County students produce a weekly TV show.
At Shaw Junior High School in the District of Columbia students produce a daily 15-minute news show, according to Don Monroe, director of instructional television for the District. Thirteen other D.C. schools have full television stations, he said.
At Laurel Elementary School in Prince George's County nearly 20 percent of the school's 425-member student body is involved in learning all aspects of production while putting on a daily morning news show, according to principal John O'Donnell. "I've seen special education kids (children with learning disabilities) work right alongside the talented and gifted kids, and it's hard to tell which is which," he said.
Almost half of 125 elementary and junior high schools in Prince George's County have video equipment.
There is at least one complete video system in each of the Alexandria city system's 20 schools, according to Dale W. Brown, the curriculum specialist in library and media work.
In Fairfax County schools last year, students taped interview with educators and PTA members about the then-upcoming school bond issue, according to Edith Ashworth, supervisor of library services. "we've seen marked improvements in behavior in some students once they can see themselves on television," she said.
All of Fairfax County's 126 elementary schools have some television equipment.
At Dufief Elementary School in Gaithersburg, floor director Rod Schriever, 12, watched as Jeffrey Malsch, 9, read the latest hockey scores.
"Boston 7, Minnesota 2, Buffalo 3, Philadelphia 1, Detroit at Los Angeles," he read, somewhat inexplicably, from Friday morning's sports pages of The Washington Post.
"And now over to you, John," he said, as the camera picked up John Cunius, 10.
"The Chicago Bulls kept their hopes for a Western Conference playoff spot alive by defeating the Washington Bullets in Chicago last nigth, 111 to 107," Cunius boomed out, streasing every other word with a different vocal intonation. Alexandria Tirandafilou, 11, read a special report for St. Patrick's Day. "One of the stories told about St. Patrick was that he charmed all the snakes into the sea and drowned," she told viewers. "Back to you, Steve."
Anchorman Reichert with a pin mike attached to his shirt, then introduced other reporters, including Stephen Pentlicki, 11, who pulled down an old school map and gave a detailed weather report; Margo Bender, 11, who read a gentle satire of one of the school's teachers ("it's fun to tease teachers, she said); Billy Castleman, a third grader who gave the day's menu ("cheese pizza, choice of fruit and a sugar cookie"), and John Weld, a fourth grader who explained the intricacies of soccer.
Most of the kids want to operate the cameras when they first comer here," said Donna Dale, the school's media specialists who is in charged of WDUF and other electronic activities.
"Then they see how hard it is and they get a realistic perspective. Anyone who works here works on all aspects of production. Some of them initially talk so fast you can't understand them. They learn how to slow down, how to read and pronounce words better. They learn how to work with each other," she said.
"This is not a frill," said school principal George Goldsmith. "The kids will work up to a challenge if it exists for them, and television is a challenge they see every day of their lives. It's a part of their world."
"I've been on the staff for three years now, so I don't get nervous anymore," said John Cunius. When he started his career in electronic journalism, he was 7 years old.
Over to you.