Washington County

Local school district seeing increased student engagement after cellphone bans

WASHINGTON, Pa. — Right before the start of the new school year, the Washington School District revised its policy to ban the use of cellphones during the day. After a month with the new policy in place, teachers say they’re already seeing improvement in student engagement.

“It helped me,” said Zxavian Willis. “My grades are getting better. But in school I feel like I would be safer being able to call my parents anytime.”

Zxavian and his brother go to Washington High School. This year, the district gave every student a pouch to lock their phone in during the school day. Both students say they’ve noticed a difference. But Willis admits there are ways around the cellphone ban.

“That’s what I do,” said Zxavian. “I say I left my phone in the car.”

“We’ve had students that have unfortunately sort of tested the policy, and so we’ve had some disciplinary infractions occur that we’ve had to handle but again as a whole we’ve been very pleased with the results we’ve had so far with the Yondr pouches,” said Washington High School Principal Chet Henderson.

Henderson says teachers have seen a noticeable difference in student engagement.

“We have a professional learning community, a Google classroom page and one of the comments that came back from that was it’s almost been a breath of fresh air to have students engaged and having conversation and having dialogue,” said Henderson. “It’s been a renewed energy back in the classroom so it’s a good thing.”

Henderson says other districts such as New Castle have reached out for feedback on the effectiveness of the pouches and cellphone policy. He hopes to see the real proof in year-end grades and Keystone exam scores.

Ringgold School District also announced an updated cellphone policy at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year. The policy prohibits students from using their cellphones or other electronic devices during the day in school buildings and on buses. They must keep their cellphones in their lockers.

In a letter to parents at the beginning of the school year, the district pointed out that the Ringgold Police Department documented 56 criminal incidents in the last school year where students used cell phone communication with fellow students to plan fights, harass other students, coordinate vaping “gatherings” in school bathrooms, vandalize property and commit other criminal mischief.

Superintendent Randy Skrinjorich says the policy is working very well at the middle school level based on feedback from teachers and a majority of parents, but the district is still working on making it a success at the high school.

“We strongly feel that cellphones don’t have a place in the educational system,” said Skrinjorich.

Some parents expressed concern about students not being allowed to have cellphones at the homecoming dance. Skrinjorich says school officials are allowing cellphones at the dance.