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800 Students Quit Television Cold Turkey For Week For Charity

May 31, 1985

BILLERICA, Mass. (AP) _ Challenged to quit television watching cold turkey for a good cause, fifth- grader Barbie Jo Zarella thought she would go ″nuts.″

But the 11-year-old instead walked away Thursday night with a trophy and a sense of accomplishment after she and 800 other grammar school TV busters in this eastern Massachusetts town raised money for charity by turning away from the tube for a week.

″No permanent damage,″ said Anthony Bossi Jr., 38, a TV sports fan who joined his son, Anthony 3rd, 8, a second grader, in tuning out television from May 5 to May 11 during a Muscular Dystrophy Association fundraiser. ″We survived. I’m not sure how.″

His son covered the family TV screen with a sign reading ″NO TV,″ unplugged the set and earned $409 for the charity during the week by persuading relatives, friends and neighbors to pay him sums ranging from a quarter to one dollar for each day he abstained from watching.

He and the other 800 participating students raised more than $17,500, far exceeding the goal of $6,000, said Arthur Levine, 27, of Beverly, the MDA program coordinator.

Totals were announced and prizes distributed Thursday night.

Young Anthony’s sum, the highest collected by any student, won the Bossi family an expenses-paid trip to Washington and a chance to appear on Boston- area television during the Labor Day Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon.

Families in Billerica, a growing town of 37,000 in the middle of Masachusetts’s expanding high-technology belt, had the opportunity during the blackout to discover the impact television had on their lives, said Roberta Breen, a high school English teacher and mother of six. During the contest week, she ran a TV busting household.

″There was a silence in the house,″ she said. ″Daily life slowed down ... beneficially. You don’t realize how life is tied to the half hour and hour with television. When I called the kids, they heard me. Life was less nerve- wracking. The tenor of the house was quiet and peace.″

She was a judge who selected Barbie Jo Zarella’s essay on her experience during the No-TV week as the best fifth-grade entry.

″When I heard about TV Busters,″ Barbie Jo wrote, adding a reference to the professional basketball team she enjoyed watching, ″I said to myself I’d go crazy seven days without TV .... Anyone in Boston who doesn’t have season tickets ... to the Celtics would go NUTS 3/8 But I made it.″

She won a trophy almost as tall as she.

Her mother, Barbara, started abstaining with the whole family.

″I can’t miss my soap operas,″ she said. ″I lasted two days.″

When she sat down to watch ″General Hospital,″ daughter Barbie Jo took refuge in an abstaining friend’s house.

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