July 19, 2019 | Heads' Blog
Cell Phones and the Classroom: Making the School Day Sacred Again

Written by: Sarah Kemeness, Head of Upper Campus

Learning to Navigate Challenges Independently 

It’s 2nd period, and the tests are handed back. The teacher’s face shows, “You’re a nice kid,” but the way she flips over the test and sets it on the desk shows, “But you need to study.” A casual flip of the top corner of the two-page test and there it is, a “68” and a greeting from the teacher that reads, “See me at 3:15.”

What’s my next move? Well, it’s 1987, I’m in Biology class, and I don’t have many options. I could tell my teacher that identifying an animal’s phylum benefits me in no way, but I’m in ninth grade and would collapse from fear even thinking about approaching her desk. I could stick the assignment in my binder, and tell myself I reversed the numbers; an 86 was solid! I see myself explaining this grade to my parents and think about running away, but where to go? 

Emotions start to run wild. I’m worried – the other students know my grade. I’m frustrated and upset – I didn’t go to soccer practice yesterday so I could study. I even reviewed with a small study group. I hear a few students discuss the problem they missed, and now, I’m completely defeated.

I attempt, at 14 years old, to manage my emotions during the next few hours at school. While my English teacher discusses Hamlet’s motives, I’m thinking of how that 68 affects my average. A class period later, conjugating irregular verbs in French is a bit of a blur. During break, my friends see that I’m not myself and I vent about my grade, the questions on the test, and of course, I make a great case that the teacher clearly hates me. They listen, agree, and once another friend shares that only the boys got higher grades (completely untrue), I feel better and we start to review our weekend plans. Before I know it, I’ve rebounded.

It’s around 5:30pm when I get home and deliver the news to my parents. My parents became angry because they assumed I didn’t care about my grade, as I hadn’t many times before. What they didn’t understand was that I had dealt with this problem on my own because I did care. I was calm because this incident happened nine hours ago, and after venting to my friends, I spoke to my teacher and I had a plan for tutoring during my study hall. My parents were too frustrated about the grade – which is okay – to see that I’m growing up. I’m becoming more independent, and I’m trying to figure out some of these ninth-grade issues on my own.

Cell Phones in the Classroom

Now, as an administrator, I have noticed that these elementary-middle school learning-to-bounce-back moments are becoming less and less common for students. Many are missing these non-academic learned lessons because they don’t have opportunities to rely on themselves. With parents only a text message away, when do students get to solve problems on their own?

I am encouraged when I see a student arrive early or stay after school to check-in with a teacher. I see maturity in a student who emails his teacher with concerns about an assignment. I am elated when a student seeks out Mrs. Sobel to discuss an issue with a friend. Each is a step on the road to self-reliance.

Goodbye, my cell; I’ll see you at 3

Cell phones in the classroomStarting in September, cell phones at Palm Beach Day Academy will be in the off position from 8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. As well, phones will remain in lockers or backpacks; students may not carry their phones in their pockets. A classroom activity may warrant the use of a cell phone, and that will be at the discretion of the teacher.

The purpose of this change is that we want our students more engaged in their classes. We want them to be more present, to focus on the assignment at hand, and discuss or challenge a classmate’s comment. A student who carries a phone in his pocket “leaves” school as soon as the LED screen lights up or that short vibration signals an incoming text, a Snap, or an invite to House Party.

I would love to think a quick text about an upcoming dentist appointment or check-in about an assignment is not that big of a deal, but these reminders or check-ins are distracting. A student’s phone rings or buzzes, and more often than not, the person on the other side of the line is mom or dad. A student’s iMessage notification pops up with, “Don’t forget about the dentist at 4” or “How’d the quiz go?”

One of the first phones that was confiscated by a teacher made its way to my desk. After the tenth buzz – notifications from ESPN, updates about surfing conditions, and texts from home – my multitasking skills were put to the test. If I was distracted, how much does this negatively affect a middle school student in the middle of an Algebra lesson?   

We want 8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. to be seen as sacred. With phones, a failed quiz is no longer discussed with a classmate on the way back from snack. An unkind comment doesn’t result in a quick vent session with a classmate. Instead, students often reach for their phones. A text message is sent to a parent, a sibling, or a tutor. Often, before the teacher and student can address an issue, the teacher, parent and tutor are in an email exchange. It seems to me, something important is lost in that rush. We have so many opportunities to help young people navigate all they experience on campus, and my hope is that, during the school day, the relationships between students and teachers can be the focus; after school, parents are on.

Parents are an incredibly important part of the team, and from 8:00 – 3:00, think of yourself as a cheerleader on the sidelines. You’re there to support, and while they can’t hear you from the field, they know you’re there.

So parents, we need your help. If you have to get a message to your child, call the school. If you want to send a little TLC, go old school and include a note in your child’s lunch.