What is the Ultimate TV Turnoff Challenge?

The Ultimate TV Turnoff Challenge initiative creates incentives for students to limit TV watching, video watching, and playing of electronic games on school days and nights throughout the entire school year in an effort to foster more active learners. The program challenges students to find more creative ways to fill their after school and evening hours which in turn helps them to become better students and learners. TV Turnoff allows children time to play, think, create, exercise, read, write, draw, imagine, and talk with family and friends. The school library and PTA co-sponsor this endeavor.

How does the program work?

The program begins in early October after Back-to-School night. In the past two academic years, all six elementary schools in the South Orange and Maplewood School District launched TV-Turnoff Year the same week. The Challenge runs every Sunday night through Friday morning when school is in session. Breaks from the Challenge are given to the participants during all school vacations, holidays, snow days, sick days, and on the child's birthday.
In the first three years of the program, TV-Turnoff began with a one-week challenge running from Sunday night through Friday morning. This week allowed students and families to look closely at how TV, videos, and electronic games impact learning and study skills. In October 2003, 435 Tuscan School students (74% of the student body) participated. Pledge cards were displayed on a graph in the library. After this TV-Turnoff Week, modeled after the national program in April, students were challenged to continue with the program for the remainder of the school year. By beginning with the week, many students realized that they, in fact, could accomplish the challenge. The disadvantage was that it doubled the workload for the program coordinators. It also confused the youngest participants who only signed up for the week and not the year.

What are the different levels of the Challenge?

Gold: no TV, videos, or electronic games on Sunday night through Friday morning (previous participants say the gold level is actually the easiest because they don’t use the TV, videos, or electronic games and therefore don’t have to worry about the time limits).

Silver: no TV, videos, or electronic games on Sunday night and Friday morning, and only 30 minutes per day of TV, videos or electronic games on Monday through Thursday.

Bronze: no TV, videos, or electronic games on Sunday night and Friday morning, and only 60 minutes per day of TV, videos, or electronic games on Monday through Thursday.

What are the rewards for participating?

During both the week and yearlong TV Turnoff Challenges, participating students can borrow one extra library book on each visit. Since 2000-2001, the library circulation at Tuscan Elementary has increased over 46%. The library displays student’s pledge cards in a colorful graph organized by grade level. At the completion of the TV Turnoff week or the Ultimate Challenge, parents sign off on their student’s achievement. Certificates were then issued for the TV Turnoff Week participants and the local bookstore gave each participant a 10% off coupon for the store. Even if students choose not to go for the year, hopefully families will make more conscious decisions regarding their children’s media consumption. Assemblies are held in June to celebrate the accomplishment of each Ultimate TV Turnoff Challenge yearly participant. Little trophies are awarded as well as pencils, notepads, and erasers. In addition to recognition and material rewards, the program builds character. The challenge part of the program is hard, but in the end, the students report that the Challenge was worth the extra effort. The program helps to develop the following traits in the participants:
• Determination: I can do this.
• Commitment: I care about my learning and want to be a better student.
• Creativity: So now what shall I do?
• Perseverance: It lasts the entire school year.
• Cooperation: Family members, friends, and teachers will support you.
• Honesty: Did I really achieve my goals?
• Self Esteem: Satisfaction from sticking to and achieving goals.
The best reward of all is the student's pride in accomplishing such a difficult task over an extended period of time. The participants show a real commitment to learning and education.

What support is provided to the student and their parent(s)?

A student guide, parent guide, and bookmark encourage students on their journey. After the week long breaks in December, February and April, the library sends out flyers to participants in an effort to renew commitment and rekindle enthusiasm. Teachers, administrators, and parents support the program and help students generate alternatives to media consumption.

Who has participated in the Ultimate TV Turnoff Challenge?

In the 2001-2002 academic year, 44 first through fifth grade students from Tuscan Elementary School in Maplewood, NJ participated. In the academic year 2002-2003, 143 students from kindergarten through fifth grade at Tuscan participated. In the academic year 2003-2004, 243 kindergarten through fifth grade students at Tuscan completed the challenge as well as almost 300 students from two other district elementary schools. In the academic year 2004-2005, all six elementary schools participated with over half the elementary students striving to complete the challenge. The program continues to grow and expand. The parents, the school community and all the PTA organizations wholeheartedly support the endeavor