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When Dan Licata and Rachel Kaufman talk about time spent in the music room, the Amherst Central High School students are not referring to band or orchestra practice.

He plays the clarinet and she the violin, but the two 10th graders have a cyber claim to fame: they have developed a "Virtual School of Music" that resulted in their selection as finalists in the 1997 ThinkQuest international web site design competition.

Of 1,500 entries, only 35 teams, comprising 108 individuals, were chosen for the final judging and awards ceremony scheduled Nov. 21-24 in Washington, D.C. The teams will compete for scholarship awards in their respective categories and for an overall prize that amounts to $25,000 per student.

Because teams are judged more favorably when members work from different locations, Licata and Ms. Kaufman developed their web site with John Heffner, a high school student from Palmer, Alaska, about 50 miles northeast of Anchorage.

The Amherst-Anchorage link is the longest distance between members of any finalist team working within the United States, so the local partners have never met Heffner.

"We'll actually get to meet him in person when we go to Washington," said Ms. Kaufman.

ThinkQuest contestants were encouraged to pick a subject in which they were already interested. Licata and Ms. Kaufman have played musical instruments for years, and Heffner is a pianist. Thus their site teaches users how to read music, study the great composers and create their own masterworks .

Licata, who coordinated much of the team's communication, said the contest taught him "a lot about being a leader." Ms. Kaufman, who called her web site work "the meat and bones of music," said she increased her technological knowledge.

Prior to ThinkQuest, the two helped create their middle and high school home pages, and Licata had what he terms "a good technological foundation." But they credited Heffner for being more adept at programming in computer language.

The year-long effort took about 1 1/2 to two hours per day three or four days a week.

"Many nights, I had to go home for supper and leave Dan to close the place up," said Paul Martin, middle school technology teacher and one of two team coaches. The other is social studies teacher Thomas Ferraina. They were also awarded trips to Washington.

The teachers are uncertain how many hits have been made on the Virtual School of Music. Ferraina said the site has only been accessible in the last two weeks because ThinkQuest's sponsor freezes the sites during evaluation. The web site address is:

Regardless of the outside demand, Martin believes the virtual music site will be included in the Amherst curriculum.

"We'll get (Licata and Ms. Kaufman) to do some in-service training with teachers," he said.

The Amherst students are enthusiastic about their trip to Washington and see the competition as a plus even if they fail to win any major scholarships.

"This will definitely look good on a college resume," said Licata.

ThinkQuest is sponsored by Advanced Network and Services, a not-for-profit corporation in Armonk. The competition is described as an "educational adventure" that enables students to harness the power of the Internet.

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