Across the Street column: A cell-phone-free learning environment
“It’s just common sense.” How many times have you heard this phrase and thought, “If only more people would just use common sense”? I was thinking that during a conversation with Dan Snowberger, school superintendent in Durango.
Dan and I, along with a thousand other educators, attended an Excellence in Education conference last month where use of technology in the K-12 classroom was discussed. While there are already lessons available that introduce students, as early as kindergarten, to technology, the conversation turned to middle and high school students use of cell phones in the classroom. How can students concentrate on the task at hand when they are on their cell phones texting friends? The answer for one principal in Snowberger’s district was to ban cell phones in his middle school. “Ban cell phones?” you say. “That’s impossible.”
Evidently not for Durango middle school principal Shane Voss. First, Voss invited parents and interested community members to a screening of a film titled “Screenagers” explaining how the child’s brain develops. The film attempted to explain the result of too much “screen time” or time spent in front of a computer screen or cell phone.
At first parents had some concerns about the importance of phones when they needed to get in touch with their child in an emergency situation. Voss assured parents that there would always be personnel available to answer the office phone during school hours. The emphasis of the new “no cell phone” rule was to “keep students engaged in the present,” Voss said.
“We have a highly collaborative and innovative learning environment,” he said. “The students can now use 100 percent of their energy with the task at hand.” He also added that social bullying during school time has greatly decreased.
Voss, principal of Mountain Middle School (grades 4-8) created a cell-phone-free environment that seems to be working. There is a time and place for the teen culture of social media, it’s just not at Mountain Middle School. Technology certainly has its place, but so does “focus.”
Common sense? Yes, coupled with strong leadership and community support.
Joyce Rankin is on the State Board of Education representing the Third Congressional District. She writes the monthly column, “Across the Street” to share with constituents in her district. The Department of Education, where the State Board of Education meets, is located across the street from the Capitol. She is also a Legislative Assistant for Representative Bob Rankin.