What do high school sports, band practice, teen relationships, snow falling outside the classroom windows and cellphones all have in common? These are typical distractions our students encounter over the course of the school year. Which one of these items should not be on this list of distractions? The answer is easy — cellphones.
For years, students, teachers and school administrators have learned to incorporate the non-academic portion of the school experience that could be classified as “distractions” into the overall school culture to make for a well-rounded, disciplined education. All except for the cellphones I would classify as healthy distractions, and a kid learning the skill to balance all of the others can be constructive management of their time.
I never gave this much thought until my wife and I visited Schenectady High School for a meeting regarding our son and I noticed how many kids were texting and talking on their cellphones during the change of classes. Several students were even talking on their phones as they strolled into class, totally oblivious, of course, to their surroundings.
Policy or problem?
I could not help but wonder how long it takes for the kids to get their minds focused on their schoolwork once they hang up. How many kids are sneaking some texts in the classroom as they hide behind the student sitting in front of them? I asked one of the teachers what the cellphone policy was for the Schenectady school district and it is pretty simple: Students cannot use their cellphones during class. They are allowed to use them during lunch, class change and any non-class time during the school day was what I was told.
But this simple policy is anything but simple. It’s actually the cause of a very complicated problem: Our students are becoming ever more distracted from their schoolwork, and a spineless policy like this is creating an increasing problem for our teachers to be able to effectively teach them.
It’s a spineless policy because after doing some very unscientific polling of friends who are teachers, administrators and aides in our school district, I was told that this was the policy of least resistance for our previous school board to enact. In other words, it would be too much work to enforce a strict policy that would truly reflect an ounce of prevention vs. a pound of cure. Had the previous school board enacted and enforced a strict policy years earlier for cellphone use during the school day, this would not be the problem it is today.
I was told the primary reasons for allowing students to carry their cellphones in Schenectady schools was that some parents complained they could not reach their kids during the day. The school also did not want to be responsible for confiscating and holding the cellphones. Every classroom in Schenectady schools has a telephone, so if parents have an emergency there is a way to reach their kids. Or maybe this will just encourage better personal communication and interaction between parents and children before the school day begins, as well as real conversations between the students themselves. It may cut the costs of some of those phone bills, too.
So I would like to propose a solution that I recently offered to new school board members Cathy Lewis and Andy Chestnut: adopt a successful reasonable policy like that of my daughter’s school, Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, that is posted on its Website: “Cellphones and beepers may not be used on school grounds during the school day. Cellphones may be used after the last bell. Cellphones are to be kept in a student’s locker. If seen or heard during the school day, they will be confiscated and only returned to the student’s parent/guardian.”
Most importantly, this policy could also be a lesson for us adults. As someone who has been guilty of being heavily dependent on my cellphone for almost 20 years to conduct business, writing this article is a wake-up call for me as well. Thousands of calls while my wife and kids are in the car, at the dinner table etc., that took irreplaceable time away from those who matter most, and, equally important, set a bad example. Next time any of us take that next call while in the company of somebody else, think twice before answering — I know I will.
Peter Guidarelli lives in Schenectady. The Gazette encourages readers to submit material on local issues for the Sunday Opinion section.