Most parents and educators would agree that, as adolescents journey from childhood to productive adulthood, they need both plenty of structure (rules!) and plenty of freedom to figure things out for themselves. Striking this balance can be tricky when your teenager gets her driver’s license, and it can be tricky when schools consider making changes to their culture. One of the things that has distinguished Falmouth Academy from other schools over the years has been the extent to which we have been able to sustain a focused and challenging academic experience in a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere.
That balance between structure and freedom was at the heart of our discussions as a faculty when student use of cell phones and social media exploded, outpacing our existing policies to the point that we knew we had to make a change. Phones were ubiquitous in the hallways and were distracting students from the face-to-face personal interactions that are such an important part of growing up. They were also causing distractions at times in the classroom.
As we considered what would constitute appropriate use of cell phones by students here at school, we were aware of both pros and cons to students having cell phones at school. We did not wish to ban cell phones completely for several reasons. Cell phones are extremely convenient for students communicating with parents about pick-up times, game postponements and such.They have legitimate academic uses both in the classroom and for doing certain kinds of assignments. We also felt that it was silly to resist the reality that to some degree the phones and apps had become one way that students relax during their “down time.” Our students work hard and deserve to relax sometimes.
This year we instituted a policy with a relatively simple approach whereby phones are not allowed outside of the upstairs locker areas. It is now clearly inappropriate if we see a cell phone during school hours in Morse Hall, the library, the computer room, a classroom, or anywhere else, no matter what is happening there. Of course, individual teachers have the freedom to allow cellphones in class for academic uses. Because our students are only in the locker areas for a maximum total of about 45 minutes between 8:15 and 2:35, the vast majority of their day, and their entire academic experience, is now free of distracting use of phones.
From our perspective, this simple change has had a welcome impact on the culture of our school. Students are spending more time together, they are more focused on academic work during classes and study halls, and teachers are no longer in the position of constantly having to “police” when they should be connecting with students in much more positive ways. Like so many student life issues (can you say “dress code?”) we have not achieved perfection on cell phones at school, but we are making progress and the school is a more productive place this year as a result of this change.
Of course, we welcome the help of parents in this endeavor. We hope parents make clear to students their own expectations for appropriate use and that they will reinforce to students the importance of following school rules. As you are likely the one paying the cell phone bill, you can certainly check your child’s phone (including all those obscure apps!) to see how and when they are using their phones during school and at home.
Our guiding principle of “Know where you are” is perhaps nowhere more applicable than here. There are obviously times and places when it is appropriate for people of all ages to use cell phones, and times when it is just not. Hopefully our stance will not only make our students’ school experience more productive and focused, it will also help them discern in the future when it is acceptable to be on their phone and when they should just put it away.
Assistant Head of School