In a dim corner of a television studio, high school student Windy Linden peers into a compact and rubs her teeth with her fingers. "I was eating chocolate," she explains with a nervous laugh. "I get it on my teeth."
A few feet away, Shanti Parikh, 17, is poised precariously on the edge of a sofa, writing with furious concentration in an attempt to recreate the script she has accidently left in her mother's car.
On the set, under the bright television lights, Rachel McGuckian, 17, and Stefanie Bodison, 15, fidget and giggle and stare nervously at the cameras that are about to begin taping the first episode of "Secondary Sampler," a news show written by high school students in Montgomery County.
The show aired last week on cable Channel 26, the school system's new educational cable television station, which offers programming ranging from information on special school programs and services to shows on child development and black affairs. (A school board spokesman said it was a coincidence that the station was given the number of the existing UHF public television station, WETA.)
Harry Swope, television program specialist for the school system, said Channel 26 is unique in that it offers nine programs created by students or staff members. The rest are shows the school system has bought from independent producers.
Because county schools are not yet wired for cable, the cable channel cannot be used as a classroom tool, Swope said. But he said he hopes that that use, as well as in-service courses for teachers, will someday be possible over the cable channel.
Among Channel 26's locally created productions are "Homework Hotline," where two teachers help high school students who call in with their science and math homework problems, and "Schools in the Spotlight," a news show produced by junior high, intermediate and elementary school students.
High school students write the script and act in the half-hour "Secondary Sampler," which has segments on sports, news and features. The show ends with "Josh's Corner," featuring Josh Mendelsohn, 17, a student at Rockville High School who is hearing impaired and uses sign language to tell viewers about special education programs.
Paula Rehr, an instructional television specialist for the school system who worked on developing programs for Channel 26, said she got the idea for "Secondary Sampler" from watching a similar program in Baltimore County. She asked nine high school students to develop the idea.
Linden, 17, a 12th grader at Wootton High School in Rockville, and her partner Jamie McIntyre, 15, a sophomore, created a segment called "On Location," a cross between "Entertainment Tonight" and "The Today Show."
For the first show, they planned to talk about the many ways teen-agers make money. But McIntyre was ill that day, so Linden invited as a special guest Charlotte Lindback, 17, a Swedish exchange student who earns money by costuming herself as a clown, actress or Swedish chef and entertaining at parties.
Lindback came dressed as a "nerd," sporting pigtails and red polyester pants. She wandered onto the set, almost fell off her chair, and offered to let Linden look at her calculator.
Linden, who wants to be an actress, said it bothers her that few county residents will get to see her work. "Nobody I know has cable . . . We have a big joke that only three people out there watch the show."
Montgomery's 26 joins public school educational channels already in operation in Baltimore County and Fairfax County. Channel 26, which airs programs weekdays from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., had its debut Feb. 3, about a month behind schedule.
Montgomery's channel has come to life in the midst of a legal dispute between the county and the station's funder, the Tribune-United Cable Co., over their franchise agreement.
The county has several complaints against Tribune-United, among them that the company has stopped wiring homes. Only 20,500 of about 190,000 residences in Montgomery have been serviced.
While Tribune-United's parent company plans to sell the cable operation to Hauser Communications, the county has nevertheless put Tribune-United on notice that it intends to go to court to revoke the franchise agreement, on the grounds the company failed to meet many conditions of the contract.
Meanwhile, Tribune-United officials have asked the county to free them from certain franchise agreement obligations, including yearly payment of 1 1/2 percent of gross revenues for public access channels.
Honoring part of the agreement, Tribune-United paid the county $650,000 to buy video equipment for a studio at school system headquarters in Rockville.
But Kay Stevens, county cable coordinator, said Tribune-United has announced it does not want to pay the remaining $200,000, which would be used for a mobile production van and for taping studios at six county high schools.
The salaries of the seven staff members who run the station -- a cable coordinator, two producer-directors, two instructional specialists, a studio stage manager and a camera operator -- are paid by the county at a cost of $330,000, which comes from the franchise fee agreement with Tribune-United.