Students at Springfield Central High School will start locking away their cellphones throughout the school day this upcoming school year, a decision Principal Thaddeus Tokarz said came after noticing students’ lack of focus in their classes after returning to in-person learning last year.
“Our students, for a period of about a year and a half, weren’t really allowed to see their friends and really the only way of communicating with them was through social media, phones, and texting,” Tokarz said. “So when they came back to school, we noticed that there was a much greater dependency on their phones, and it was taking away from their learning and becoming a distraction.”
It’s a pilot program still being finalized, but Tokarz explained that students will be responsible daily to shut down their phones upon arrival to school and place them into an individual pouch with a magnetic lock that can only be opened by teachers or administrators at the end of the day.
The Springfield School Committee approved the phone ban in June, following the example of nearby Chicopee High School. Greenfield Public School Committee also voted on Wednesday to support the same system at the district’s middle and high schools, but the decision ultimately is being to left up to the superintendent.
Some committee members in Greenfield thought there wasn’t enough parent and community input before making the decision.
Committee Member Elizabeth Ann Deneeve said while cellphones can be distracting, she wants the district to reevaluate the way children are being taught by incorporating social media into the education and utilizing the devices that students use all the time.
“It does nothing to encourage learning when a student has a mental block thinking about their device,” Deneeve said. “We as a society would rather remove something new from the equation rather than change the equation to fit the new.”
The three high schools created this policy through a partnership with Yondr, the company that produces the pouches used to store the phones away.
Each class room at Central will have a specialized unlocking device for teachers to help unlock the pouches at the end of the school day; at Chicopee, there are four magnets at each exit of the school for kids to tap on the way out.
Chicopee High School Principal Carol Kruser said the school saw the same distraction from students during the height of the pandemic, finding it more difficult to regulate cellphone use in classes due to student’s increasing dependency on them. The high school then began locking students’ phones away in March, seeing immediate improvements in increased student production, greater engagement, and a deeper understanding of classroom assignments; eventually grades began to rise, Kruser said.
The policy also helps put less stress on the teachers, Kruser said, since instead of worrying about there being 30 phones out, they might see one occasional phone that gets snuck in and take disciplinary actions by calling an administrator to the class to come and get it.
Kruser said some parents raised concerns about being unable to contact their children during the day or that the students would be unable to call for help in an emergency situation. She’s assured them that every classroom is equipped with a hardline phone that has the ability to call for emergency services. The students or a teachers could also break into the magnetized pouches if needed.
Kruser added every student at the school also has a Chromebook for assignments that involve digital interaction.
“The phones are ... not like it’s a good kid or a bad kid doing something wrong,” Kruser said. “There is an addictive nature to it. So it just was overwhelming after the pandemic, after them being home for so long.”
Longtime Central High educator Drew Forbes recognizes this is going to be a big change for students who will be without instant access to their devices but supports the effort. He said the campus will offer training on the procedures for who puts the phones in the bags and who unlocks them.
“I think there’s going to obviously be a learning curve, and there’s going to be some frustration on the teacher and student part,” Forbes said. “But I think I think in the long run, it may be good. It’s worth a shot.”