Education

Highland students told to put away phones, talk to each other

Parents are big fans of Highland Middle School's cellphone ban

Parents of students say the ban helps their kids in many ways.
Up Next
Parents of students say the ban helps their kids in many ways.

The cafeteria is noisy again at Highland Middle School, and Principal Erick Baer thinks that’s a good thing.

For the last few years, Baer said he’s seen students paying more attention to their smartphone screens than the classmates sitting around them. School leaders wanted to get them talking again, so they decided to ban cellphones during the school day starting this year.

They’re encouraging the children to socialize by playing cards and other games during their breakfast and lunch periods. Baer said it’s taken off. A new club has formed since cellphones were banned. Students are meeting after school to play the Pokemon trading card game together — a continuation of their lunchtime routine now.

“I think if we’re not pulling back on some of that technology at various times to give them that social interaction, we’re not doing them justice,” Baer said. “It’s a delicate balance between having enough and having too much.”

Baer said parents’ reactions have been largely positive, including mom Susan Olliges who described the cellphone ban as a “great idea.” Her daughter is a sixth-grader at Highland Middle School.

“If they don’t have the social development, then they’re not going to know how to be social when they’re adults,” Olliges said. “So you better start now.”

082317Dh kings in corner
Highland Middle School 7th grade students Maddison Dortch and Mazzy Robertson play a game of Kings in the Corner during lunch. Derik Holtmann dholtmann@bnd.com

Students are still going to be using tablets or laptops in their classrooms because, like communication skills, the exposure to technology is going to come in handy when they become adults, Baer said.

For the last eight years, Baer said the school has allowed some students to use their devices from home because it doesn’t yet have enough Chromebook laptops to provide to every child when teachers want to use technology in a lesson. Until this year, that included cellphones.

“The first couple years, right out of the gate, kids used it responsibly,” Baer said. “It just seems like over the last three to four years, we started losing grip on how those phones were used.”

He said educators want to see students using devices as “educational tools,” but when they used cellphones, they were accessing social media apps and texting their friends instead, which violated the school’s policy.

One question Baer said parents have now is how they’ll be able to reach their children. Under the new policy, students are allowed to have their cellphones at school; they just have to be turned off and kept in their lockers. When the final bell rings at 3:35 p.m., Baer said they can turn the phones on to see any messages they missed from their parents or to call home about a change in after-school plans, for example.

Parents also have the option of calling the school office to communicate with their children during the day.

If there’s an emergency, of course I’d want to be in touch with them, but I think you have to trust the folks in the building to protect our kids while they’re in class.

Chris English, parent of Highland Middle School student

But dad Chris English said he doesn’t usually need to be in contact with his daughter until the school day ends. She’s an eighth-grader at Highland Middle School.

“If there’s an emergency, of course I’d want to be in touch with them, but I think you have to trust the folks in the building to protect our kids while they’re in class,” English said. “Up until recent years, that was kind of the case. We had to do that.”

Baer has learned through emergency trainings that it’s beneficial for parents to focus on the reliable information coming from the school rather than text messages or calls from individual students, who “won’t always communicate accurate things out to parents, and that’s when panic ensues,” he said.

The school uses an email and text messaging service when officials need to reach parents directly, according to Baer.

Across Madison and St. Clair counties, 39 public middle schools are almost equally divided on the issue of cellphone use by students.

Many of the 21 schools that have banned cellphones say they aren’t needed because they have enough Chromebook laptops for their students to use during class instead, including West Junior High, Central Junior High and Emge Junior High schools in Belleville.

Collinsville Middle School decided to ban cellphones last school year because educators thought they were becoming a distraction and were increasingly used as a tool for bullying and sharing explicit messages.

Another 18 schools allow students to use cellphones at some point in the day, such as during lunch.

At Marissa Junior and Senior High School, educators think they’ve found a way to remove the temptation to look at cellphones during class. Principal Vince Hughes said when students enter a classroom, they place their phones in a shoe organizer that rests on the back of the door, and then the children sit down at their desks.

If teachers decide to allow students to grab their phones during class, it’s for educational purposes like using the calculator app, according to Hughes.

I think if we’re not pulling back on some of that technology at various times to give them that social interaction, we’re not doing them justice.

Erick Baer, Highland Middle School principal

He said use of phones can also be a reward for students who stay out of trouble. If the Marissa middle schoolers are late to class or don’t turn in a homework assignment, for example, they’ll have a lunch suspension on Friday, which is the only day students are allowed to use their cellphones during lunch. Hughes said that can be motivating for a child at that age.

“They actually will police themselves,” he said of hearing students telling their peers to put their phones away in the hallways.

Hughes thinks allowing students to use their cellphones in some circumstances is more realistic than a complete ban. He compared it to classroom policies on gum.

Collinsville IL Middle School in Southern Illinois near St. Louis MO changed its cellphone policy, banning students from using their phones during the school day. Principal Kimberly Jackson said electronic devices have become distracting and pose

“It’s really hard to enforce, so why not teach them how to use them correctly?” he said. Like teaching students not to stick gum under desks, Hughes said Marissa educators will also teach students that they can’t walk around using their cellphones all the time.

“You can’t do that at your job, kids,” Hughes said.

In Highland, Baer said educators tried teaching students about “proper use” of the devices they brought to school, along with internet safety, at the beginning of each school year.

“But as we kept going down that road, we found that smartphones, in particular, were used in the wrong way no matter how much we did training or told them, ‘That’s an educational tool,’” Baer said.

He said the cellphone ban has been going well, with results school leaders wanted to see at lunchtime. They’re also hopeful for better concentration in classrooms, Baer said.

“I think they’re on their phones enough other times,” he said. “They just need to come to school, forget about that for a little bit and concentrate on what’s important.”

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

At a glance

The following are the cellphone policies for middle school-aged students in public schools across St. Clair and Madison counties:

Town

School

Grade levels

Allows cellphone use?

Alton

Alton Middle School

6-8

No

Belleville

Belle Valley School

Pre-K-8

No

Central Junior High School

7-8

No

Emge Junior High School

7-8

No

Signal Hill Elementary School

Pre-K-8

No

West Junior High School

7-8

No

Bethalto

Wilbur Trimpe Middle School

6-8

Yes, during inclement weather when students can't go outside in their lunch periods

Cahokia

7th Grade Academy

7

Yes, during class if teachers give permission, during lunch and during emergencies

8th Grade Academy

8

Yes, during class if teachers give permission, during lunch and during emergencies

Estelle Sauget School of Choice

K-8

Yes, during class if teachers give permission, during lunch and during emergencies

Oliver Parks 6th Grade School

6

Yes, during class if teachers give permission, during lunch and during emergencies

Collinsville

Collinsville Middle School

7-8

No

Dupo

Dupo Junior High School

7-8

Yes, during lunch and during passing periods

East St. Louis

Lincoln Middle School

5-8

Yes, during class if teachers give permission, during lunch and during passing periods

Mason-Clark Middle School

5-8

Yes, during class if teachers give permission, during lunch and during passing periods

Edwardsville

Liberty Middle School

6-8

No

Lincoln Middle School

6-8

No

Fairview Heights

Grant Middle School

5-8

No

Pontiac Junior High School

6-8

No

Freeburg

Freeburg Elementary School

3-8

No

Granite City

Coolidge Junior High School

7-8

No

Highland

Highland Middle School

6-8

No

Lebanon

Lebanon Junior High and High School

6-12

Yes, during lunch

Lovejoy

Lovejoy Middle School

6-8

Yes, during breakfast and lunch

Madison

Madison Junior High School

6-8

Yes, during class if teachers give permission

Marissa

Marissa Junior and Senior High School

6-8

Yes, during class if teachers give permission and during lunch on Fridays

Millstadt

Millstadt Consolidated School

3-8

Yes, during class if teachers give permission

New Athens

New Athens Junior High School

6-8

Yes, during class if teachers give permission and during emergencies

O’Fallon

Amelia Carriel Junior High School

6-8

No

Fulton Junior High School

6-8

No

Joseph Arthur Middle School

5-8

No

Roxana

Roxana Junior High School

6-8

Yes, during class if teachers give permission and during lunch

Shiloh

Shiloh Middle School

4-8

Yes, during class if teachers give permission

Smithton

Smithton Elementary School

Pre-K-8

No

St. Jacob

Triad Middle School

6-8

No

St. Libory

St. Libory Elementary School

K-8

Yes, during class if teachers and administrators give permission

Swansea

High Mount Elementary School

Pre-K-8

No

Wolf Branch Middle School

5-8

Yes, during class if teachers give permission and during emergencies

Wood River

Lewis-Clark Junior High School

6-8

No

  Comments