The Prince George's County school system has launched a program to encourage students to spend less time watching television and more time reading and studying.
The program, known as Project SHARE, asks parents to turn off all radios, TV sets and phonographs for at least half an hour each evening, so their children can study and read without distraction.
Under SHARE, an acronym for School and Home Accepting Responsibility for Education," parents are asked to help their children with homework four nights a week.
"We're trying to forge a partnership with parents," said Dr. Robert Shockley, assistant superintendent for instruction and pupil services. "There is only so much the schools and the teachers can do. We need help from parents."
A special pamphlet scheduled to go out this week advises parents on how to help improve children's school work. The pamphlet urges parents to attend PTA meetings, to stay in contact with teachers, to encourage their children to read magazines and books during their leisure time, and to make sure children are well fed and rested when they come to school.
The pamphlet also includes a form parents may sign to show their willingness to participate in the program.
Shockley said during power outages caused by a recent snow storm, some parents used hand and automatic electrical generators to keep television sets going.
"I think this shows that some children are too dependent on television," he said. "And we clearly won't be able to make them less dependent unless we get the cooperation of parents.
Project SHARE and similar programs have been tried in other parts of the country, with varying degrees of success. According to Shockley, the Fort Worth, Tex., school system began a SHARE program three years ago, and administrators there report a 68 percent parent participation rate and some improvement in grades and test scores.
"The program hasn't worked in some parts of the country because it hasn't been given enough time or support from parents and teachers," said Shockley.
In Prince George's, the program has been endorsed by the school board, the county council of PTAs, the county educators' association and the county association of school administrators and supervisors.
Shockley says school administrators will poll teachers in April to see if the program has had any impact.
"We hope that this will raise test schores, but that's a long-term impact. Teachers should be able to tell us in a few months if the program is helping kids in the classroom."