Their eyes are glued to the screen.
But it isn t cartoons or "Miami Vice" that captivates the 25 elementary school students in Rockville. It s what they have learned to call nested loops, sub-routines and arrays, input and for/next loops dancing across their glowing video terminals.
These fourth, fifth and sixth graders are learning to use a computer in an unusual program that is part of the summer camp run by the City of Rockville s Recreation Department.
Scott Cassell, 11, and Alex Loab, 10, are playing "snake" and yelling about it, while across the room 11-year-old George Nachman and Bing Chen, 10, are calling for help with their program.
And nearby, Karen Lin, 11, Wendy Huang, 11, and Erica Sun, 10, are giggling while playing with their terminal. George Su, 11, and Matthew Orwig, 12, are competing fiercely in their computer game.
In a series of four two-week camps ending tomorrow, computer engineers volunteer their time and their own equipment to take the basic 8-year-old from a techno know-nothing to a surprisingly sophisticated hacker who can create computer programs -- simple things like tick-tack-toe or bouncy ball games.
Said Laurie Levin, who directs the city's 25 or so summer recreation programs: "In terms of achievement," these kids come out of the experience with skills that certainly will help them academically and probably professionally later on in life, whether it s a 9-to-5 secretary punching a word processor, a PhD exploring new frontiers, or just the business person who has a leg up on competition thanks to better computer smarts."
It is also a bonus, Levin added, for a number of disadvantaged children who may not otherwise get a chance to work with a computer.
The five-year-old program is the only one offered in a public summer camp in the area, Levin said. Although Recreation Department employes oversee the program, Levin is quick to point out that it might never have gotten off the ground without the help of some computer volunteers at General Electric Information Services, a Rockville-headquartered division of GE with more than $300 million in annual sales and 1,500 employes in Rockville.
In fact, said Levin, "we couldn t do it without their help. They lend us 12 IBM-PCs, softwear, printers, disks and other supplies. They actually set the stuff up for us in the school, insure it, and even donate some money for scholarships to needy kids and the cost of staff time -- a real happy relationship for us."
Bob Hench, the company s vice president who organized the program in 1982, said that the volunteer effort began because the company was already locked into other programs. "Our problem with helping the city is that like all big computer companies, we already have serious financial commitments to help education, giving millions of dollars to programs all across the country," he explained.
Instead, the GE company went volunteer, turning up about a dozen computer engineers who happily donated their time to create a learning program for children in the age group, and even lent their personal hardware to the Recreation Department when it became clear that no city money was available.
Hench recalled: "The funny thing about those early years is that in 1982, PCs were still pretty scarce and our people ended up running a connection directly to the school from our main frame computers here, hooking these 8-year-olds into a multimillion-dollar state-of-the-art system."
Of course, GE is not alone in helping area youths. IBM, which has 15,000 employes in the area, has a far-reaching volunteer system that includes more than 100 employes who volunteer as math and science teachers at local schools.
Honeywell, with 3,000 local employes, focuses most of its corporate attention on Dogwood Elementary in Herndon and the Herndon Junior and Senior High Schools.