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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

How a middle school kicked the phone habit

Smartphones are a major classroom distraction, say nearly three-fourths of high school teachers and a third of middle school teachers in a Pew survey. In an EdWeek survey, 24 percent of K-12 teachers thought cellphones should be completely banned on campus and only 31 percent said students should be able to use phones in class if the teacher allows it.


That's why teachers' unions, which normally advocate for more teacher autonomy, are calling for smartphone bans, reports Madeline Will in Education Week. It's just too hard for teachers to fight for students' attention on their own.


Seventh-grader at Illing Middle School with a Yondr pouch. Photo: Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant

Joanna Slater writes about a Connecticut middle school that banned phones on campus in the Washington Post. Assistant Principal Raymond Dolphin saw "students were using the devices in class, despite a rule against it," she writes. "Social media was exacerbating nearly every conflict among students." And students weren't talking to each other in the halls or the cafeteria.


Illing Middle School now requires students to lock their phones in a Yondr pouch at the start of the day. They use a wall-mounted station to unlock their phones as they leave for the day.


Students hated the policy at first, teachers were skeptical and parents worried about being out of touch.


Chioma Brown was angry at first, but she adjusted. “You can focus more” on classes, she said.


Justin Pistorius, a math teacher, said the old policy -- teachers decided if phone use was OK in their class -- led to endless arguments. Now, he's not the bad guy for running a phone-free classroom. He's also noticed students are taking shorter restroom breaks, because it's no longer phone time.


“We have these devices which we know are at best habit-forming and at worst addictive that are increasingly linked to depression and loneliness,” said Susan Linn, a psychologist, lecturer at Harvard Medical School and author of “Who’s Raising the Kids?”
“So why would we have them in schools?”

The school persuaded parents that students don't need their own phones in an emergency. Teachers can call 911 on their phones (or a classroom landline) and Yondr pouches can be cut open if necessary.


If parents have to relay a message to their child, they're encouraged to call the office. Students can use the office landline to call home.


Students no longer coordinate group vaping sessions in the restrooms or use AirDrop to share inappropriate photos in class, say administrators. "Social-media-fueled arguments during school? Over."


Students say they're making more friends without phones, says Dolphin.


Students are chatting more “face to face, in person,” says Gabe Silver, an eighth-grader. “And that’s a crucial part of growing up.”

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