COLORADO SPRINGS — We are diving into cell phone use in schools in this 360° Perspective.
U.S. teens spend more than seven hours a day on screen media, and most experts agree that's over the limit.
Teachers are seeing students with cell phones in all grades these days, and with the help of Academy District 20, we got a peek into how three different southern Colorado schools are dealing with the changing times. D20 allows principals to set their own policies for their schools.
Nearly half of tweens have their own phones, and more than 80 percent of teenagers. Even one in five 8-year-olds have their own smartphone. This is all according to a report by Common Sense Media.
They use phones for texting, social media, YouTube, and homework as well. And a lot of students and teachers believe since it's part of their future -- schools, students and teachers need to learn to adapt.
So how do schools deal with this trend, and how do students balance school time and screen time, and do they need cell phones these days to "fit in?"
We are exploring all angles of this issue in our 360° Perspective.
NO CELLS IN CLASS
At Eagleview Middle School students know when the bell rings, the cell phones should be put in their lockers and stay there until the end of the day.
Principal Jamie Lester says it's all about getting kids engaged from the classroom to the lunchroom.
"We want our students to connect in the hallways, face to face, through conversation. A lot of students have expressed they appreciate that they are not feeling the added pressure of social media at school," Lester said.
Of about 1,000 students about 700 have cells and Lester says the no cell policy is approved by a lot of parents because it takes away some of their pressure as well.
"In the past we had kids go home and tell parents they need a cell phone for school," Lester said, "That's a decision parents and children should make as family. As a school it's not in our interest to force those conversations."
Kids still use technology in schools but cell phones can open up a distracting world with all the apps and notifications.
Eighth grader Bo Moss says he doesn't really mind the policy. He mostly uses his phone at school to find out how he's getting home, but that's not the case for some of his classmates.
"I think a lot of kids these days like cell phones and are addicted to it, like 'screenagers'," Moss said.
Principal Lester worries about how social media can affect the kids as well, "Purchasing those devices for a student can open up a whole world of social media. Social media I equate to living in New York City, you can be surrounded by people, but still be very lonely," he said.
Of course, if a student needs a phone for a medical need like glucose monitoring they work with parents on that. If there's an emergency they can always tell their teacher or head to the front desk.
STUDENTS CREATING A NEW POLICY
At Timberview Middle School the current cell phone policy says you can have your phones but have to put them away at teacher's request, but students say their classmates are constantly taking advantage.
"Half of my students get like 100 plus messages a day, that's insane! Who can focus when they have that many distractions constantly buzzing their phones," Language Arts teacher Sarah Maliepaard said.
"It's their image, it's what makes them a "cool 8th grader" now," Maliepaard said.
So the Language Arts teachers decided to create a new 8th grade project, and have students create a new cell phone policy.
"Let's ask the students. They live it everyday, they have new, fresh ideas. We should go to them," Maliepaard said.
"I was hoping something we saw in the research would point to 'this is what the cell phone policy should be,' but there's no clear-cut answer," Language Arts teacher Stephanie Stedman said.
The students did research, looking at cell bans in schools, screen addiction and brain development. They handed out surveys to the student body. They then took all their information and had debates and came together to create a policy.
They learned a lot doing the research and say there's more to be done.
"Social anxiety and depression and suicide rates have been on the rise and the line with smart phones and social media has almost been parallel, so I think that is definitely and issue. I think that is something we need to deal with," 8th grader Micaiah Innes said.
In the end the students recommended they should have access to their phones at school but decided usage should be up to individual teachers. They found bans don't work because the real lesson is learning how to navigate the digital world with the real world.
The students and teachers also agreed, adults have problems being addicted to phones as well.
The students' policy will be merged with the principal's research and findings, then they'll present a new policy plan to the community, students and families, to decide on for the upcoming school year.
THE STOPLIGHT POLICY
At Discovery Canyon Campus they are using a unique system and even rewards to encourage responsible cell phone use.
There is a BYOD policy, or Bring Your Own Device, because a lot of their coursework uses them.
"Most of our work is on devices, homework, textbooks," Sophomore Isabella Greve said.
So to keep things clear in the classroom, DCC teachers use magnets and a red, yellow, green system depending on the lesson for the day.
"Red means put away phone, yellow means you can have it but don't use it a lot, green means you're good to go, you can have music on if you need, it's a good system," Sophomore Sahil Bhandari said.
In Gillian Locklar's Spanish class she says it's really been helpful and she's seen grades go up.
"It's been incredibly successful. I started it this year and saw a big difference between this year and last. A lot less distraction, students who might have been checking their phone before are no on task and engaged," Locklar said.
"I get distracted easily, so if I don't have my phone all the time, I'm able to focus on things that are actually important," Greve said.
Locklar also has a divider on the back of the classroom door where students can store their phones during class and get extra credit.
"Having a system like this is cool, I get rewarded if I put my phone away, instead of being punished," Greve added.
"There's social media, texting, all these other things happening constantly. So kind of getting motivation to focus on school is a good idea," Bhandari said.
Students say cell phones are a part of life, but this system is helping them learn how to manage their screen time and their grades more effectively.
FUN WAY TO CONNECT
Patricia Flos emailed us this picture saying it's important to communicate with kids and speak their language. She says she designed this library sign at Challenger Middle School to inspire students to read!
Thanks to Academy District 20 for allowing us inside different schools to see their unique policies.
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