WASHINGTON, Pa. — Right before the start of the new school year, Washington School District revised its policy to ban the use of cellphones during the day.
“We not only need students physically here,” said Washington High School Principal Chet Henderson. “We need students mentally here and having our students engaged in the classroom will just improve their individual achievement.”
Henderson says he understands cellphones are part of today’s society.
“We initially looked at different ways of handling cellphones,” said Henderson. “I’ll be the first one to admit that I initially was the one to say, let’s teach students how to be responsible with their cellphones. Like, if they want to use them in the hallways, use them in the hallways. If you’re texting. But just being in the classroom. Listening to the teachers, it became a thing where you’re seeing and you’re observing that a lot of class time became addressing cellphones. Put your cellphone away. I need your attention. And that just takes away from students learning.”
Washington High English teacher Treg Campbell says cellphones in schools have contributed to bullying and cheating. He also sees abbreviations used for texting creeping into formal essays.
“We know we’re in the digital age,” said Campbell. “We want to teach our students how to use things responsibly. How to use cellular devices and other technology. But with the pandemic and coming off that, it’s more important than ever that we are focusing on academics, enrichment, and engagement. And cellphones have proven to be a nice major distraction. We’re taking time from books and learning to alleviate some of the concerns with technology. It’s been a prominent problem.”
Campbell also says cellphones are harming the development of students’ soft skills.
“Many of my students struggle with talking on the phone,” said Campbell. “One of the resources that we do is to prepare them for job interviews, and they can’t talk to people. They’re so used to texting.”
Both Washington and Penn Hills turned to Yondr pouches. The company says it surveyed more than 900 schools with cellphone bans. It found that 65% saw an improvement in academic performance and 95% of teachers recouped time for instruction.
“We have 40 minutes in a period, and it’s very difficult when you’re having several students receive phone calls in class,” said Campbell. “The interruptions between text messages and social media. It really is an engagement issue.”
There are around 650 students in grades 7-12. Each student will receive a pouch provided by the district. A replacement will cost a student $20. At the beginning of the school day, they must put their cellphone in the pouch and lock it. Then at the end of the day, they can unlock the pouch using a device located near the doors.
Anna Hyslop just started her junior year at Washington High. She’s also a mom to two. She’s worried about not being able to check her cellphone during the school day.
“If one of them were to get into an accident,” said Anna Hyslop. “I don’t want to have to find out through the office.”
Anna’s mother, Nichole Hyslop, says one of her biggest concerns with this is safety.
“When Anna first saw this, she came to me, and she said if worse comes to worst, mom,” said Nichole Hyslop. “I just want to be able to say goodbye to you and my kids. This is the society we live in, and these are the fears that she has as a daughter and a mom.”
Washington High knows these are real concerns but also pointed out that cellphones can be a detriment during an emergency.
“Most national safety and security officials say in case of an emergency keeping phones off and keeping students engaged and listening to administrations or staff is the most important,” said Campbell. “If an emergency arose, students need to be quiet. You don’t want to hear pings from phones.”
Henderson says district officials in the district in the safety plan have a safety plan in place.
“We want 24-hour access,” said Henderson. “That’s just the way things are today. But we’re also a school, and we’re here to educate your students and to provide safety for your students. That’s our responsibility throughout the day, to not only create a safe learning environment, but to educate each and every young person who comes through our doors.”
State Rep. Tony DeLuca introduced a bill to implement a statewide cellphone ban in schools. It’s currently in committee and discussions will reconvene this fall.
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