Schools work to weans students off phones
GREENWICH — While some Connecticut schools have banned cell phones in classrooms, Greenwich schools continue to search for a middle road, relying on personal tablets and laptops to bring classrooms into the 21st century — without the beeps and buzzes of social media and text notifications.
Still, administrators of both public and private schools have started experimenting with ways to encourage students to unplug from their personal devices.
Greenwich High School allows teachers to design their own classroom cell phone policies, and permits discrete phone use in hallways during passing periods.
“We want the teachers to have the flexibility to decide when and how often electronic devices, including cell phones, would be incorporated into their daily classroom teaching and learning practices,” Greenwich High School Interim Headmaster Richard Piotrzkowski said in an email.
Teachers may ask students to put away all electronic devices into their book bags, to place their cell phones in a caddy as they walk into the room or to turn off their cell phones, he wrote.
Students mostly use cell phones in the hallway and during passing periods to check social media and send texts about walking to class together or meeting for lunch, said senior Ashley Rugg.
Early in the year, students learn which teachers want them to keep their phones out of sight and which teachers are OK with having them out, Rugg said.
She had a physics teacher who offered extra credit to students who put their phones in her caddy. She took “phone attendance,” and those who consistently put their phones in the caddy received two extra points on an exam.
Overall, the school is pretty lenient in enforcing cell phone rules, she said.
“When you need to contact your parents, they get the communication part of phones,” Rugg said, adding that she feels comfortable texting her mom if she forgot sneakers at home, for example. “They don’t like when you’re obviously not paying attention.”
Cell phones are not much of a distraction in class, said senior Kasey Kralik.
“Kids are pretty good,” she said.
Teachers monitor laptop use strictly, however, Kralik said. Some tell students to keep their laptops closed whenever the lesson plan does not require Internet access or references to an e-textbook. Other teachers make students shift their desks so they can see each laptop screen.
Piotrzkowski has worked to lessen the hold phones have on students by experimenting with a tech-free session among the new end-of-day opportunity blocks, 30-minute free periods that allow students to seek help from teachers, explore a new interest, start on homework or leave early for academic and athletic competitions. It was met with student opposition, however.
“It’s not easy, a lot of homework is online,” Kralik said. “It’s nice to take a break, but opportunity block is not the way to do it.”
At Brunswick School, restrictions on cell phones are more strict than they are at GHS. Like Greenwich High students, Brunswick School boys each have a laptop. But they are prohibited from using cell phones in class. At the Upper School, students also are not allowed to check their phones in common areas, including the dining hall.
Brunswick also has tried to encourage its students to go device-free, sending them on a retreat to the school’s 668-acre farm in Randolph, Vt., about 30 miles south of Montpelier. The school acquired the land last year.
“Beginning with the long Amtrak ride, they noticed how much emphasis they were putting on talking to each other,” said Dean of Student Life Tucker Hastings in a statement. “Many of them stopped using devices right then, even though it was their last chance to keep them.”
The boys liked the dynamic going without cell phones created, he said, adding that they brought it up during group talks at the end of each day.
“Being unplugged was a stated, recognized relief for virtually every boy,” he said. “They didn’t need to post ‘likes’ or keep up with the social media machine.”