Carol M. Kruser
Principal, Chicopee High School
The persistent distraction of cellphones at the high school level has created an environment where students cannot concentrate and teachers cannot engage students. The isolation and lack of structured time during the pandemic only accentuated this problem. At my school, students returned from remote learning unable to ignore the constant notifications of TikTok videos, Instagram posts, and Snapchat messages. YouTube videos and movies appeared infinitely more engaging than geometry and chemistry. Students struggled to regulate their behavior and refocus on the structure and expectations of the classroom. Teachers faced having to combat a problem that many experts have concluded is a true addiction.
Our school needed a solution to help students resist the lure of constant phone contact. In March, we began a pilot program where students would turn off their phones and put them in a pouch, which was then sealed with a magnet. This program, called YONDR, gives students a break from their phones. The phone stays in their possession, but they cannot access it, (except in a true emergency) At the end of the school day, students unlock their phones as they leave the building.
Students do need to understand how to use phones and other technology appropriately. They do need access to educational materials, and, at our school, each student is provided with a Chromebook. These Chromebooks are district-issued and are monitored. However, the constant lure of the cellphone being turned on is too much to resist for students at this time. In fact, just asking them not to look at their phones is not effective enough to combat the addictive nature of the device.
We will be using YONDR again for this coming school year. The positive response we have seen in the classroom and in the hallways is worth the effort to enforce the rule. Teachers have reported that students’ grades have improved and some students who were not doing any work have started to do work now. Students self-reported being able to concentrate more on their school work, being able to complete assignments, and understanding the lessons better than they had previously. In short, students do NOT need to have their phones on all day, constantly distracting them from their education.
Junior and Student Government Association president at Massachusetts College of Art and Design; 2019 Medford High School graduate
Let’s be clear: Cellphones pose issues for people of all ages and they have a huge impact on society as we know it. Many individuals struggle with how to have a healthy relationship with these devices. However, simply depriving people of the use of smart technology - including locking up student phones during the school day - is not the way to address these challenges. (My views do not represent those of MassArt or Medford High School.)
Cellphones can undoubtedly be a distraction in the classroom and it is reasonable to allow teachers to regulate their use. Forcing students to put their phones into magnetic-sealed bags or otherwise part with them for the day is too extreme. Even if it led to some short-term improvement in grades, I wonder if simply taking phones away from students would undermine our efforts to help them learn to use these devices in healthy ways.
Yes they can be abused, but cellphones offer a huge opportunity area for education. In high school, my peers and I often used our phones as a research aid at the library and in class for review games. Mobile applications such as Kahoot! make learning fun, and it was an effective, entertaining way to retain information.
Several teachers in my former high school demonstrated that there is no need to lock up phones to keep them from interfering with classroom learning. These teachers hung a large piece of fabric with sewn-in pockets on the back of the classroom door. Students had to place their phones in the pockets when class began, but could retrieve them if they were needed to work on the day’s lesson, and at the end of class. I think that kind of rule, which keeps cellphones accessible if needed but not a distraction, is a better solution.
Locking up phones also raises questions of safety. School shootings and other emergencies are becoming more prevalent. Even if students can use their phones in an emergency, how easy will it be to retrieve them in a timely way? And emergencies aside, some students work and their employers may need to contact them about changes in shifts.
All technology can be misused. But locking up student phones is a flawed, band-aid approach to a larger societal issue.
As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact email@example.com.
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