The perpetual challenge for parents of tweens and teens is getting kids off their electronic devices and encouraging them to participate in the real world. Charlotte Central School is taking steps to do just that for students during the school day, rolling out the Away for the Day program as school started last week.
Prior to this year, the technology policy at CCS allowed middle-school students to use their mobile phones as calendar planners, to text from their lockers between classes and to carry their phones with them in pockets or backpacks during the day. Away for the Day is a program that was started by Delaney Ruston, a physician who made the film “Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age.” It is being adopted by school districts across the country, and the premise is simple: phones stay in lockers all day.
In a letter home to parents, principals Jen Roth and Stephanie Sumner wrote, “The research on this subject is compelling and clear. The more time that middle school students spend separated from mobile devices, the more they learn, and the less anxious they feel.” Research also shows that social media use causes anxiety in middle-school students and that there is a correlation between smart-phone usage and teen suicide.
In the past, students could arrange rides home, change plans or check in with their parents throughout the day. The principals wrote in their letter that those things will all still be possible but in a way that might seem more familiar to parents of school-aged kids. “Students will have access to school phones to make calls to communicate with their parents/guardians as needed during the day (between classes, or during core times).”
In an interview with The Charlotte News, Roth said that though school just started there are already noticeable changes in the air at CCS that she says indicate good things to come. “So far I have only had a small snapshot of what it could look like. In the a.m. cafeteria drop-off, more students are socializing and interacting with the activities. Afternoon pick-up has students watching for their rides instead of getting lost in their technology.”
Roth also said that parents seem excited about the idea and are supportive of the change; the students, however, have some reservations. “Two students I spoke to said it’s a change because their parents used to text them throughout the day to let them know what their afterschool plans would be,” Roth said. “I reminded them that if they had questions or concerns, they could ask a classroom teacher to use any of the school phones.” Ever the educator, Roth added, “This also sounds like a great opportunity to teach and for kids to practice their executive function skills of ‘planning and prioritizing’ and ‘organizing.’”
Students in grades 7 and 8 are allowed to check their phones at the end of the day to arrange rides or check with parents about after-school plans, and Roth said there are other special circumstances in which Away for the Day is on hold. “We do have students navigating certain health issues with the support of classroom teachers, our school nurse, case-managers or school counselor. Having responsive communication with families is key to maintaining an emotionally and physically supportive learning environment where students are the priority,” she said.
Roth said that at a conference this summer CVSD educators learned about research from Dave Brown and Priya Poehner, titled, “Effects of Technology on Young Adolescents’ Socioemotional Behaviors and Learning.” Roth said this inspired the switch to Away for the Day in Charlotte and Shelburne and that the plan was already in place in Williston from last year.
The change is not only a good one in school, Roth said, but she sees the potential for positive change outside the walls of CCS. “Parents are asking for more resources to support their child’s development of healthy technology habits,” she said.