Keeping Students Focused

As a school administrator, educator and parent, Kim Jasper knows how distracting cell phones can be for students in school. Jasper, assistant principal at Milan Middle School, where her daughter, Cristin (L), attends, enforces a policy of no personal cell phones for students. Photo Credit: Lori Maranville.
As a school administrator, educator and parent, Kim Jasper knows how distracting cell phones can be for students in school. Jasper, assistant principal at Milan Middle School, where her daughter, Cristin (L), attends, enforces a policy of no personal cell phones for students. Photo Credit: Lori Maranville.

What happens when you keep middle school students from using their cell phones at school?

For the most part, says Kim Jasper, assistant principal at Milan Middle School, they pay attention. Jasper, a teacher at the school before assuming her role as assistant principal in May of last year, knows all too well the classroom struggle of vying for a student’s attention, trying to overcome the lure of a cell phone in their hands.

No cell phones at school

Jasper was a classroom teacher last school year when the middle school instituted a mid-year policy to strictly enforce a rule that students keep their cell phones out of sight during the school day. Previously, students had been allowed to bring their devices and use them at certain times during the school day.

“It is basically ‘if we see them, we take them’,” Jasper said, noting that students can retrieve their phones from the office at the end of the school day. “Since implementing the policy, the disruption in class has really improved. We have also seen the impact of cyberbullying diminish at school. I can’t say it’s not happening at all, but it’s not impacting the school day as much.”

Jasper said all students have school issued computers, so they have access to technology and the internet for school work, reducing the need for cell phones and other connected devices.

Other area districts with limits

As technology evolves, schools often attempt to keep pace by incorporating technology to enhance instruction, while also limiting the use of the personal devices when they become a distraction in the classroom.

Milan isn’t alone among area schools in restricting cell phone use. The factors driving these policies are similar: classroom disruption/distraction, social/emotional issues, loss or theft of devices and equity.

Saline Middle School updated their cell phone policy this past fall, from leaving it up to teachers to monitor cell phone use, to requiring all students to keep their phones in their lockers during classes.

Bradley Bezeau, the school’s principal, said the reaction has been mostly positive, especially from parents. “I really thought I’d hear more. Kids really need and love structure,” Bezeau said, “even if they won’t admit it.” Aside from there being less classroom disruption, he said, there is also the social-emotional piece. Students don’t feel the pressure from peers to continually check in on their phones and on social media sites.

At Ann Arbor Public Schools, communications director Andrew Cluley said all of the middle schools have policies against students using cellphones in common areas during the school day and the policies are driven mostly by the desire to limit distraction. There’s also a concern of students losing their devices as well as the fact that not all students have access to the same personal technology. “Middle school teachers encourage students to use district technology for school work when necessary,” he said. “They (middle schools) all require cell phones to be put away unless teachers give specific permission to the students to use them,” Cluley explained.

Slauson Middle School requires phones to be kept in lockers throughout the school day while Scarlett Middle School uses a traffic light system to let students know what the expectation is for use of technology such as cell phones.

Sean McNatt, superintendent of Lincoln Consolidated Schools, said their middle school policies require students to keep their personal cell phones shut off and in their lockers. “We do make an exception for medical reasons, such as a student with diabetes,” McNatt said. All area schools generally make exceptions for students who have a medical need for a cell phone. “We are certainly not going to deny a device for a child who has a health need,” Jasper said echoing the sentiments of other school officials.

Local charter schools also maintain policies limiting cell phones. Principal Kim Bondy of South Arbor Charter Academy in Ypsilanti Township said, to limit distraction, student cell phones are not allowed on school property during the school day or during school-related events, but they do make exceptions in some circumstances.

Student response to cell phone limits

Student reaction to the policies is mixed, but many seem to understand the need, even as their lives become more intertwined with technology.

Jasper said probably about half the students are okay with the change, and another 10 percent are really mad, while the rest just don’t care. “I would say none of them love it.”

Kim’s daughter, Cristin, a seventh grader at Milan Middle School, has an iPod but doesn’t have a cell phone. Cristin is okay with not having a cell phone and with the policy. She relates that while a cell phone might be helpful for looking up information, . . . her iPod allows her to text friends when she’s not in school. She also has a school-issued Chromebook for any academic work she is doing while at school.

Cristin’s cousin, Jayden, who is also a seventh grader and does have a cell phone, offered another opinion. “I can see why they think we shouldn’t have them out during the school day, because it is distracting, but I thought it was fair to at least have them out at lunch time. They took them away from everybody, but they should only take them away from the people that were causing problems or using them inappropriately.” Although Jayden said she wishes she could still freely use her cell phone at school, the new policy “isn’t that bad.” “I get to see most of my friends during school and If I need to talk to my mom, I can go to the guidance office and call her.”

While students don’t like to be separated from their technological devices, Jasper explains that they have adjusted and the cell phone restriction has, overall, been a positive development for the school.