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Barry's Backup

Members of the Niles West High School choir in Skokie, Ill., were given a choice: Attend homecoming festivities or grab a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sing backup for Barry Manilow.

The choir's big break came when officials at the Rosemont Theatre in Rosemont, which had signed the pop superstar for its grand opening last month, needed a local chorus to back up Mr. Manilow in his finale. Choir members at Niles West High seized the chance.

Despite the fact that the show opened Oct. 12 and played through homecoming weekend, choir director Paula Bachman managed to get 31 volunteers from her 116-student choir--once the students figured out who Barry Manilow was.

"When I first mentioned it," Ms. Bachman said, "most didn't know who he was." Indeed, many of the students weren't even born when the crooner scored some of his biggest hits in the 1970s.

For the finale, students had to learn two of them: "I Write the Songs" and "It's a Miracle."

In the process, Mr. Manilow picked up a few fans, Ms. Bachman said. "Some students went out and bought his CDs."

Chucking the Chalk

Hasta la vista, chalk dust.

That's what students in Martha Miller's 5th-grade class can say to the sneeze-inducing substance since the New Hampshire teacher adopted a chalk-free policy in her classroom.

After banishing chalk from her room at Londonderry Elementary School this fall, Ms. Miller now teaches most lessons with either an overhead projector or a computer hooked up to a large-screen monitor.

She hoped that by doing so, she would both make the room more comfortable for allergy-prone students and bring her students up to speed on the information highway.

The class has five computers connected to the Internet and other communications networks. Parents use electronic mail to communicate with Ms. Miller about how their children are doing in class, or to send good-luck wishes to a son or daughter before an athletic competition.

Ms. Miller has also cut back on paper consumption. Students now submit many of their assignments on computer disks.

"As a teacher, it's hard to ban chalk, because that's one of the reasons we get into the profession," Ms. Miller joked. "But it forced me to take a look at all the technology in my classroom."

--Adrienne D. Coles & Meg Sommerfeld

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