By Amanda Burdette
ROCKVILLE – Two beakers overflow with liquid and smoke as the TV show hosts come onstage announcing they are brewing clouds. It isn’t the well-known children’s science program, “Mr. Wizard,” but “Homework Hotline Live.”
The Montgomery County cable-based program, begun as a phone service about 11 years ago, is funded by the county school system and, with each airing, helps around 60 students answer their homework problems.
Students call the hotline at (301) 279-3234, where teachers answer and talk them through their homework. Callers are asked if they have cable and if they want to be on television, Paula Rehr, television instructional specialist, said.
A caller is then transferred to the studio, where the problem is answered over the air.
Randy Kurty, a seventh-grader, heard about the service through flyers posted at Earl B. Wood Middle School. He called in Tuesday for help with his long multiplication problem. “It is cool,” he said about the hotline, adding that he would use it again.
Another seventh-grader, Daniella Mizrahi, said Cabin John Middle School advertises the hotline on the morning announcements. “It is fun and educational,” she said. “And the people on the show are really nice. They’re, like, `Take your time.'”
Shannon Woodward, a teacher at Flowerhill Elementary, and Don Ayotte, a teacher at Damascus High, host the program from a set filled with educational materials — eraser boards, a skeleton and a model dissected frog.
Rama Morrison of Sherwood Elementary, who works in the phone room, said most the calls are math related. “There is very little science and social studies,” she said. “Some language arts and reading.”
Examples of questions are factoring the number 188 and subtracting two and one-fourth from two and two-thirds.
Morrison, a third-grade teacher, said that if she gets a hard math question, she passes it on to another in “a mixture of teachers.”
Teachers do an on-air audition before being selected for the show. Jeff Bertoni of James Daly Elementary didn’t mind. The show, he said, was “a great experience because I see the excitement in my kids….
“One day in class we had a quick-take camera, and they took a picture of me and said I should autograph it. I asked why, and they said, `Because you are on TV.'”
Ayotte, who has been participating since the show was created, said that in the beginning “we wouldn’t elicit that much participation with students.” But now, “we reach thousands of viewers.”
The show, broadcast on Channel 52 between 4:30 and 6 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, has expanded through publicity.
Rehr said 15,000 hotline book covers were given to students. The show also gives away t-shirts with the hotline logo to students who answer a “brainteaser” trivia question during the show.
David Frey, the program’s producer/director, is excited about the growth. The show is a half hour longer this year, allowing more “focus on the kids…the main reason we are here”.
Besides educating students who call in, the program educates high school volunteers who work the cameras and sound.
Juliette Flores, director for the program and assistant director for Channel 9 News, said, “It is really a unique system, because the teachers help children with their homework but there is another learning process going on behind the scenes.” -30-