2018-02-04 / Insight

‘These cell phones are killing us’

North Branch: No phones in class
BY NICHOLAS PUGLIESE
810-452-2601 • npugliese@mihomepaper.com

Students at Ruth Fox Elementary School and North Branch Junior High are able to use cell phones or other hand held devices only during lunch — a policy, said administrators, that has led to marked improvement of attentiveness and significant reduction in disciplinary cases.Photo by Nicholas Pugliese Students at Ruth Fox Elementary School and North Branch Junior High are able to use cell phones or other hand held devices only during lunch — a policy, said administrators, that has led to marked improvement of attentiveness and significant reduction in disciplinary cases.Photo by Nicholas Pugliese NORTH BRANCH — It may be only a recent phenomenon, but young students and technology use goes together like peanut butter and jelly — which is why one school relegates student cell phone use to a lunchroom-only activity.

Most students at Ruth Fox Elementary and North Branch Middle School own cell phones, tablets or any of a variety of handheld gadgets, but they know the use of these devices is strictly forbidden in class and in the halls, and for good reason, said principal of both buildings Cindy Howe.

According to Howe, for a few years the faculty and administration of the two schools tried a system involving “red” and “green” days — alternating permission to use phones in class. “It just wasn’t working, and we thought ‘these cell phones are killing us,’” she said. Usage violations and subsequent discipline actions required were mounting, and Howe and her team changed the policy.

“I read a bunch of articles and did a lot of research on what cell phones are doing to kids’ brains in the classroom,” said Howe. “They just can’t ignore them if they have them.” Currently, the schools’ policy is simple: no phones in class. Not in pockets, not in bags, nowhere. “They just can’t not think of them,” she said. Students are able to bring their phones to school, but they must be kept in lockers, and usage is allowed only during lunch — a compromise, said Howe. And even then, usage is monitored, as the taking of video and photos during lunch is forbidden.

“It’s changed everything,” said Howe. “It’s been a process.” Assistant principal of both buildings, Bill Barkowska, agreed, pointing out that before the change, students annually logged seven pages backto front of cell phone usage violations, and after the change, “we might get maybe one page,” he said. “One-hundred and five violations down to maybe 15 for the whole year.”

According to Howe and Barkowska, separating students from cell phones in class has made them more attentive, and it’s removed that temptation to constantly check their phone.

“There’s still drama, it is a middle school, but kids are no longer bringing that (online) drama into the classroom,” said

Barkowska. “It’s much more controllable, and we can handle it. Kids have learned the expectations, and have met them,” Barkowska continued.

While upon heading up to the high school level, students are once again allowed to use cell phones freely, keeping that out of the hands of younger students is important for development. “Middle school is a special time, there’s a maturity that happens,” said computer teacher Carmen Woodruff. According to Woodruff, her computer classes provide her a chance to initiate conversations with her students about responsible use of technology. “It provides an avenue to talk to kids about what it is, what can be dangerous,” said Woodruff. “Technology is our world right now and we have to figure out how to handle that appropriately and responsibly.”

The removal of phones from regular use in school has had secondary benefit as well, said Barkowska, limiting incidents of stealing and cyberbullying, and Howe added that the policy shift has left to the cutting down on students suffering from “FOMO,” or the Fear Of Missing Out. It’s also a policy that has taken some adjustment for parents, said Howe. “It was a little bit of a transition for our parents,” she said. “But they know that they can call the school (if they need to reach their child), our secretaries are great about getting a hold of the kids immediately.” The few minutes delay between a parent calling and reaching their child at school does not outweigh the day-today distractions of in-class cell phone usage, said Barkowska.

“They’ve got all kinds of devices, but once you set and stick to expectations, the kids are rising to the challenge,” said Woodruff.

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