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CBCS middle school curbs smart phone use by students

Sixth, seventh and eighth graders embracing the changes

By Katherine Nettles

In the first year of a new policy of restricting smartphone use among middle school students at Crested Butte Community School (CBCS), things have gone well.

Middle school principle Stephanie Niemi describes the reasoning for the school’s new policy, saying, “It was something we had been talking about, because we had seen teenagers being consumed by their phones more and more, and less engaged with each other.” The middle school includes sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

“In addition, we had some issues with anything from a conflict to actual bullying via students’ phones. And although oftentimes that would be outside of school, often it would land here at school and have an impact on students during the day,” Niemi says.

To generate some conversation and thoughts from students and staff about how we use cell phones, Niemi says the school screened the documentary Screenagers to both middle and high school students during the school year last year.

Niemi says another concern was, “We’ve begun to see glimpses of the students taking pictures of each other. Photographing is not okay, especially in a bathroom or a locker room,” she says.

“As a staff, we decided it wasn’t a major high school issue, but more for middle schoolers. It is difficult to manage technology when you’re younger,” says Niemi.

She says high school students are so busy between classes, sports and other activities, and do well enough at self-regulating, “They use their phones mostly appropriately.”

At the high school level many teachers also provide cell phone baskets in their classrooms. Students know if they are taking a test, they drop their phones into the basket first to avoid the temptation that someone could look up answers or communicate with others.

The process of limiting middle school use also made sense, Niemi explains, since elementary school students are not allowed to use them either, so this eases the transition. The staff spoke to the school accountability committee, and had its support. “When we told middle school students that this was coming for the next year, we went to the middle school student council, and asked what would make lunch a more interactive experience,” explains Niemi.

The end result of that process was that now middle school students have some games going on during their lunch period. Three ping-pong tables and a game of corn hole are staying busy. “They are up and engaging with each other, which I love,” says Niemi. “Middle school students need to learn how to socially interact with each other. So that’s what we’re chasing.

“It’s interesting because, it has been so cold and snowy,” continues Niemi, “so they are inside a lot more right now. But once it is warm outside, the students are getting out there a lot more, moving around, engaging with each other. Its far more positive than communicating via the phone. Phones are a great tool, but I think we need to help them lean how to manage it,” she says.

The student handbook states the new policy simply: “Middle School Students: The use of cell phones and all other electronics is restricted to before and after school, and at the discretion of staff for educational purposes. If a cell phone needs to be used for communication purposes, please ask for permission from a staff member first. The use of ear buds is mandatory when students are using electronic devices, but for safety reasons, only the use of one ear bud is allowed.”

Exceptions to the policy are allowed for when a student needs to contact a parent, and if a student is watching a video or is doing research for educational purposes, “We ask them to have one ear bud out so they can hear the teachers or in the event of an emergency,” says Niemi.

As far as violations go, the school is working with students in getting them to take ownership of the policy. Violations are handled at the discretion of teachers, and a phone can be confiscated for the day or given back to the parents if a student has repeated issues.

But mostly, students have been compliant.

Niemi says overall student participation, the PTA support and positive alternatives have worked well. “They are really good about it. It’s really been a non-issue this year,” she says.

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