Thumb’s up to Fort Atkinson Middle School for banning students from having cell phones with them during classtime.
The school this fall instituted a “Bell-to-Bell No Cell” rule in which students must keep phones in their lockers from 7:45 a.m. to 3:05 p.m.
Violators are given a warning and told to put the device back in their locker. A second offense sends them to the office, where the phone is kept until the end of the day. Do it a third time and a family member must come in and pick it up. If the problem persists, that student will not be allowed to bring his or her phone to school at all.
This is a sensible policy. Research shows that Americans check their phones every 12 minutes, and students check theirs in the classroom more than 11 times a day. The mere presence of a cell phone — even if turned off — can be distracting and “undermine both learning and test performance.” Students in schools with phone bans reportedly earn higher test scores and low-performing students benefit the most.
Consider that children’s attention spans have shrunk to four to six seconds and the distraction becomes more costly. Within a 45- or 90-minute class session, a pupil can receive dozens of notifications. Not only are they an immediate distraction to them and classmates, but it can take up to 10 minutes for a student to re-engage after responding to a cell phone distraction.
There is more than just an educational risk, too. Research reveals that children who spend more time online are more likely to be involved in cyberbullying than those who spend less.
Now put yourself in teachers’ shoes. They already struggle with maintaining students’ attention and discipline during class, and cell phones provide an easy “escape” for antsy pupils. Many teachers say one distracted student can, in turn, distract others, and students’ grades have declined as a result.
Sure, there is another side in this national conversation. However, as for needing cell phones to use as calculators or online textbooks, the Fort Atkinson Midde Schoolers have Chromebooks and other technology at their fingertips.
And while we understand that parents want to be able to keep in contact with their children at all times, what message is so important that it can’t wait until after school? In an emergency, a call to the school office still does the trick … as it did back in the pre-cell phone days. Administrators will get word to the student right away.
So far, the change at Fort Atkinson Middle School has been a positive one, well-received by both pupils and staff. Not only is there less distraction in class, but students again are socializing and talking face to face at lunchtime instead of staring down at their phones. That alone makes this worthwhile.
Fort Atkinson Middle School is far from the first school cracking down on cell phones. Edgerton also did so this fall, and schools in Jefferson, Evansville, Madison and Portage have in the past. Even all of France and Ontario, Canada, now have instituted bans. We hope to see more and more schools, both near and far, follow suit.
Cell phones can be a distraction for users at any age. The last place they need to be is in a place where people are trying to learn … and teach.