Cell phones are getting out of schools, thanks to you

Thanks to all of the changemakers working to create learning environments free from cell phone distractions, so many great things are happening in our schools. I want to tell you about real-life examples inspired by Screenagers’ AwayForTheDay.org, last week’s USA Today article about it, and some new resources on AwayForTheDay.org.

But first, a huge shout out to France and their response to the data that putting phones away in the classroom results in higher grades and other positive outcomes. Late last month, they officially banned cell phones in schools countrywide for students ages 3 and 15.

Meanwhile, on the home front, I was elated to get this letter from my daughter’s high school principal this week:

"RHS (Roosevelt High School) classrooms will be cell phone free zones. As a result, cell phones should remain in school bags, off or in silent mode during the entirety of their classes. This is a change from the previous year when teachers set individual policies within their classrooms."

The principal did a wonderful job getting input from teachers, parents, and students before creating the new policy. Check out her full letter toward the bottom of the Away For The Day’s policy examples page.

Changes like this are increasingly happening in schools of all grades. Just this week I’ve heard from 25 people about changes in their schools around cell phone policies. Decisive principals, vocal teachers, and motivated parents are communicating their preferences and helping create change. Here are some examples:

1. A group of parents in Austin, Texas encouraged the Eanes Independent School District to change their cell phone policy. They used resources from AwayForTheDay.org to write an open letter to the school district trustees and circulated it among district parents. One of the parent-organizers, Brooke Shannon, emailed us:

“Away for the Day was a huge help in our campaign this past spring. We used many of the resources you all provided on your site to encourage close to 700 families in our school district to sign an open letter asking the district to change the policy. This past summer we collaborated with our superintendent's office on the issue. We just received word a couple of days ago about the positive changes for the upcoming school year.”

2. Colorado parent and counselor, Angela Tapp, used the template we created as a starting point for a Change.org petition to get student cellphones out of her district’s middle schools. She says:

“The momentum has been astonishing.  The unexpected involvement of the professional community has served as a communication launching pad to engage with middle school families and school officials.”

3. In Portola Valley, California, school board member Jeff Klugman has used our resources to urge his district to change and enforce a cell phone ban in his schools. He has come up against some resistance and found the ‘pushback” section on the AwayForThe Day.org website to be very helpful. Last week he received good news that the district’s middle school, Corte Madera School, has added a new provision to their policy. The policy used to be that phones were supposed to be turned off for the middle schoolers but they were allowed to have their phones on them all day, but now the superintendent specifically added that phones must stay in backpacks or lockers all day. You can read their whole policy, and others, here.

Last week, USA Today interviewed me for an extensive article about the debate of whether or not to allow phones in schools. It really is worth checking out. Here are a few lines from the piece:

“Ruston believes that putting the phones away can improve a child’s emotional well-being in school and help with their focus in and out of the classroom. And while she recognizes that a teacher might ask a kid to pull out a phone during a given lesson, to do X, Y, Z ... the reality is that many of these kids now on their personal devices have gotten so many notifications that they’re actually not going to whatever the teacher is saying they should be doing, but instead sending and receiving messages or going onto their video games."

“Ruston also dismisses the safety argument. She pointed to an NPR report in which security experts have said that letting a kid have a phone in the classroom during a lockdown makes them less safe, not more. When students should be quiet, for example, a ringing or vibrating phone might alert an assailant where kids are hiding. Parents trying to reach youngsters in an emergency might jam communications and interfere with first responders. And the kids might miss instructions from the authorities.”

We are continuing to add resources to the AwayForTheDay.org website to help you become a changemaker. For example, we have a new page that outlines effective ways to work with students, parents, and teachers when rolling out a new cell phone policy. I would love to hear if you are working to make a change at your kids' school and let me know if there are any resources or tools that you would find helpful that currently are not on the campaign’s website.  

For this week’s TTT, here are some questions to start a conversation.

  • What opportunities do you think are missed and which are gained when a student does not have access to their phone in classrooms? You might read this USA Today article with your kids titled Should your kid have a cellphone in school? There are quotes from all sides of the debate, including several from me.
  • What changes have you seen parents, students, or teachers make happen in schools?
  • Even without individual cell phones, lots of screen time happens in schools–(via 1:1 computers, carts with computers, computers in classrooms, etc.). What are some examples that you think really improves learning via these screens?