Schools enforce rules to keep students focused in class, off social media

Schools enforce rules to keep students focused in class, off social media

Since cell phones were banned in the classroom at Concord High School earlier this year, 11th grader Skyler Hubbard says she has been able to concentrate better.

After a tough period of remote learning where students could easily escape the gaze of their teachers or simply turn off the Zoom camera and have unrestricted access to their phones, being back in person has been an adjustment.

Hubbard said the simple act of moving his phone from its tempting spot on the desk into the backpack where it’s out of sight made all the difference.

“I feel like I’m paying more attention to what my teachers say and stuff, instead of just playing games on my phone,” Hubbard said.

Concord High School started the school year with a strict rule – at the start of class, all cell phones must be turned off and stored out of sight in backpacks. Students are encouraged to use their phones when not in class – during change hours, lunch or study halls – but when in class, they should be distraction-free. It’s not a new policy, but Reardon said they are making a concerted effort to ensure the policy is applied equally across every class.

Concord isn’t alone in trying to master teenage phone use. A recent Pew Research Center study found that 35% of teens say they use social media on their phones “almost constantly,” whether it’s TikTok, Youtube, Instagram, or Snapchat.

Teenagers are aware of their cell phone use. About a third (36%) say they spend too much time on social media and more than half (54%) of teens say it would be at least somewhat difficult to give it up, according to the Pew study.

Prior to this year, Reardon said, teachers were enforcing the policy to varying degrees. While some teachers were lax about using the phone, it was harder for other teachers to enforce it if they wanted to. The end result was that cell phone use created a “roadblock” for students to stay focused on their tasks.

“You wonder why I can do it there, but not here?” type of deal,” Reardon said. “Now if everyone does it and it fits into the culture of the school, it becomes a non-issue.”

Reardon said he speaks to students about the importance of the school by explaining how much money it takes to run the district and that their parents contribute taxpayer money to their educational experience.

“School is serious business,” Reardon said. “When you’re in class, you have to do your homework, which means you can’t be on your phone.”

Eleventh grader Keyana Jensen wants the policy to be a bit more relaxed and for phones to be allowed during independent work hours or at the end of class when students have finished their work early. Jensen says listening to music through headphones actually helps him focus while working, especially when the room is noisy.

“If someone is loud in the classroom, I can’t just isolate them and play music,” Jensen said.

Student Lazzar Magar felt the same way, saying she didn’t feel distracted by her phone in class and wished she could use it during free time.

“I understand, it’s so that we can concentrate. But some people can focus,” Magar said. “Some people play on their phone all the time, but I’m not that kind of person.”

Among schools in the Capital Region, cell phone policies vary in strictness by age.

Most colleges, including Bow Memorial, Hopkinton Middle and Franklin Middle, do not allow cell phone use at any time during the school day, saying phones should be turned off and kept in their backpack or locker. when they are in the building, according to their student manuals. Some colleges, like Weare Middle, even prefer that students not bring personal cell phones to school at all, although most schools allow this for security reasons. Most colleges encourage students to use a landline phone in the main office if they need to contact a parent or guardian during the day.

Secondary students are generally given more freedom when it comes to using the phone. At most local high schools, including Hopkinton High and John Stark Regional, high school students are allowed to use their phones at school when not in class, such as during lunch or overtime, although they have to put them away in class, according to their student manuals.

At Merrimack Valley, the Student Advisory Council is working with administration this semester to develop clear expectations for cell phone use on campus. In a letter to parents on September 23, principal David Miller said the school had experienced problems with phones causing disruption and students were recording others without their consent. It sent a survey to parents to gather information on responsible and appropriate cell phone use at school.

“While the school opening was overwhelmingly positive, MVHS continues to see a growing number of concerns regarding the inappropriate use of cell phones on school grounds,” Miller wrote. “In many cases, the use of these individual devices disrupts the learning environment.”

Franklin High School follows the same process as Concord with an emphasis on a pre-existing policy to ensure it is applied consistently across the school.

“It wasn’t as expected, in that there were a lot of different expectations in the class,” Franklin High School principal David Levesque said. “As faculty and staff, we want to make sure we’re all doing the same thing, certain rules that we want to make sure everyone is following.”

It is Franklin High’s policy that students are not permitted to use cell phones or headphones in academic areas, such as classrooms and the library. They are allowed to use their phones during changeover times between classes, in the cafeteria during lunch and in the study hall.

“It’s also a life skill. When we’re at work, we can’t be on our phones. And they understand that,” Lévesque said.

Teachers have different ways of dealing with it in the classroom. Most teachers simply request that phones be stored in backpacks. Some have a bag or basket to keep students’ phones until the end of class. A Franklin teacher placed charging stations throughout the classroom.

There is also flexibility in the policy, Levesque said. If a class finishes their work a few minutes early, a teacher can allow students to pull out their phones, and teachers can incorporate phone use into their lessons for educational purposes.

During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, when learning moved online for the majority of students like Hubbard, and all-day use of technology became an everyday part of everyday life.

“I think the COVID years have amplified cell phone use because of communication,” Levesque said. “When you’re home alone during COVID and you can’t communicate, you have to use a cell phone to connect with people. We really focus on our social and emotional learning to make that connection, one-on-one or in a group, so they can learn those soft skills and be able to communicate with an adult or a peer in person.

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