When students worked with microscopes in Mike Bellew's biology class at Hammond Junior High School in Alexandria last year, he would have to hustle around the room to make sure they were examining the correct images under the lens.

"You'd be running around the room wasting instruction time, making sure each student was looking at say, live cells, instead of dead ones," Bellew said.

But now his job is a bit easier. The school has purchased a special microscope with an attachable camera, called a video microscope, which displays on a television screen what is being seen through the scope.

"Now, all the students can see what they are supposed to see, and there are less mistakes," Bellew said.

The video microscope is one of several high-technology tools being used in the city's schools today.

Although the idea of marrying high tech with instruction is not new, it has been only within the last two years that Alexandria school officials have placed classroom technology at the top of their priority list.

"It is foremost on both {Superintendent Paul W.} Masem's and my agenda," said Virginia Turner, director of libraries and instructional resources. "The goal is to integrate current technology to benefit the students."

Turner began the educational technology department three years ago. Prior to that, she said, there was no cohesive planning for technology.

The main staple of the technology infusion has been the personal computer. Three years ago, there were few computers in classrooms, and only two schools, T.C. Williams High School and Cora Kelly Magnet School, had computer laboratories.

As of this school year, T.C. Williams has a second lab, and there is a lab in each of the secondary schools and enough equipment for every elementary school, Turner said. "This year alone, we purchased over 60 computers for the district," she said.

Laura Hall, teacher specialist for computer education, said the school district now owns about 800 computers, or about one computer for every 16 students. "That's better than the national average," she said.

Used with adaptive software, the computers, most of them Apple II-GS's, help teach students reading, writing and mathematics as well as enable them to become familiar with the keyboard.

Even in preschool classes, children learn shapes, letters and body parts with interactive programs that require them to touch the screen or a special oversized keypad. There also are special software packages for students with learning disabilities and those learning English.

"Twenty-five years ago, we were battling with whether to teach junior high students how to type on a typewriter. Now we have kindergartners using a keypad," said Boggs Wright, special education coordinator.

Like most of the state's school systems, Alexandria's move to computerize the classroom began with then-Gov. Gerald L. Baliles's initiative in 1988, allocating money to each school district for the purchase of computers.

With the $106,000 it received, the city bought 56 computers and a satellite dish for its high school; $1,000 was pulled from its own budget to purchase software.

Turner said her biggest goal now is to continue training teachers on the computer and to further integrate it into their teaching. Many teachers have already taken the initiative.

"It's a real motivator," said Kathy Hart, a teacher at Lyles-Crouch Elementary. "With the computer, if a child gets a wrong answer, there's no fear of being embarrassed in front of the whole class. There is more safety for taking chances. And they find it more exciting to learn math on the computer than with flash cards."

But reading, writing and arithmetic are not the only things students are learning with the computer.

In Cora Marshall's art class at T.C. Williams, students create animated films, complete with music and dialogue, using three Amiga computers with special graphics software and various attachments. The computer allows a student, with the use of a cursor, to draw, design, color in a thousand different gradations and compose and play songs with the sound of an entire musical ensemble.

"This offers them an awareness of the computer, because to be a successful commercial artist today, you have to know how to work on a computer," said Marshall, who is a painter by training and has reproduced on the computer works by Vincent Van Gogh. "It lets these kids think. It faces them with problems to solve."

"You feel kind of spoiled using it . . . because you can edit and fix mistakes," said sophomore Jay Anderson, who used the computer to draw a detailed cartoon of two rams fighting. Next he will compose music for the piece.

Aside from the video microscope and computer labs, other innovative technologies are emerging in the higher grades.

Hammond and George Washington junior high schools and T.C. Williams High School have "Compact Disc-Read Only Memory" players or CD-ROMs, which store on one small compact disc large collections of information, such as that contained in a whole set of encyclopedias.

The two junior high schools also recently purchased videodiscs, which resemble 12-inch compact discs. Each disc stores text, still images and video. Used with a special player, the videodisc represents a new-age type film projector. Hammond earth science teacher Brian Jerome recently showed images of planets from a disc to teach his class about the solar system.

None of these high-tech tutors comes cheap. Videodisc players cost about $1,000. A CD-ROM player costs about $1,200 and a video microscope about $3,000. Personal computers range up to about $2,500 each. The Amiga 3000 personal computer costs about $3,500, not including the software and special mixed-media attachments, such as a video camera and a videocassette recorder.

With the current budget woes, Turner said she is not sure the Alexandria school district can keep up with its past purchasing stride. But she said, "I'm an impatient person. I feel good about where we are, but I'd like to see computer networking in every school, where everybody can access information from school to school, around the country and around the world."