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Teacher puts lifeline in student hands

The geography teacher asks four seventh-graders to help him win $1-million on the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire game show.

By BRYAN GILMER

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 2000


ST. PETERSBURG -- Lots of people sit on the sofa and fantasize about being a contestant on ABC-TV's blockbuster Who Wants To Be A Millionaire game show. Next week, Pinellas County middle school teacher Joel Melvin will live that dream.

But what if host Regis Philbin were to pose a question about rap music or Pokemon characters, subjects Melvin, 31, knows little about? Just in case, Melvin has asked four of his students at Bay Point Middle School to stand by as a committee of "lifelines" in case he needs help.

"They know a lot of stuff I don't know," Melvin said Friday. He teaches world geography courses at Bay Point, along with a course on Florida geography and history.

Melvin of Clearwater has been selected for the pool of 10 contestants for Tuesday's taping of the show in New York City.

Those contestants must compete in a "Fastest Fingers" contest two or three times during the show. Each time, the person who answers correctly the fastest gets to sit center-stage with host Regis Philbin to answer a series of multiple choice questions with the chance to win up to $1-million.

"I'll be trying to fight my way into the big seat," Melvin said.

In Melvin's classrooms this week, there was a similar jockeying for position after he said he might pick students to help him.

To win the top prize, contestants must correctly answer 15 questions in a row. They may seek help three times if they get stuck. One option is to phone a friend, and that's where the students come in.

Melvin is allowed to submit five telephone numbers to ABC. Adults will be on the end of the line at four of the numbers. At the fifth will be seventh-grader Andrej Milic and his father, Dragoslav, along with three of Andrej's friends from school.

Because Melvin needs Dragoslav Milic's art expertise, he let Andrej pick the other three students. Their expertise breaks down like this:

Andrej, 12: sports and karate.

Bao Luong, 12: math and Pokemon.

Justin Heaven, 12: television and popular culture. "I have no life," Justin says. "I sit and watch TV."

Allison Schnur: "Miscellaneous," she said with a giggle. "I just know different weird things."

The chance that Melvin will make it to center stage, get stuck and call on the kids may be slim. But Melvin has learned not to rule things out just because of the odds.

To get the trip to New York, he had to call the show's 800 number and answer three questions correctly. Then he was randomly chosen for a phone playoff against 39 people from among 240,000 who also answered the three questions correctly.

Melvin has been using the show as a teaching tool, holding mock competitions among his students with questions in the geography field.

He has bought $200 worth of books to study areas of knowledge where he may be lacking. From watching the show, he knows he can answer an average 10 out of every 15 questions without help.

His worst fear?

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