Students at Westpark Middle School are being forced to unplug from social media during class time under a new policy that requires them to leave their cellphones in their lockers.
While the internet can open a world of knowledge, school principal Dean Pasiuk said the use of smartphones can also take away from the instructional learning environment.
“Teachers recognize that the time spent on tasks is a big part of what we do,” he said.
Yet some students were finding ways to divert their attention to their phones, even though the electronic devices were not previously allowed to be used in classrooms for non class-related activities.
Pasiuk said these students had been stealing time from group projects to sneak texts to friends — or would request a washroom break so they could leave and post something to Instagram.
“Cellphones were interrupting educational time,” said the principal, who feels Westpark students still have better online learning opportunities through Chromebook tablets linked to educational programs.
Since the school’s new in-class cellphone ban started on Sept. 3, Pasiuk said positive feedback is being received from teachers and parents, who had previously been consulted through the school’s parent council.
Even many students are welcoming the change, he added.
“While they might bemoan our policy to their friends, students want to fit in socially” and understand it’s easier to be nasty to somebody in a text than face to face.
Pasiuk hopes the new policy will reduce online bullying and help students learn to relate to each other in person.
Westpark teachers and administrators are seeing some evidence this is happening. Although cellphones can be taken out of lockers during lunch breaks, Pasiuk said he’s seeing fewer students staring at screens.
“We are seeing them talking in groups again and playing games.”
Grade 8 students Katie Wilcox and Mason Hammerback are coping with the ban. But they have some classmates who “are struggling not to have a phone in their hand every second of the day,” said Wilcox.
Hammerback believes it will make a positive difference in the classroom, and even to the social atmosphere at the school.
“People are staying on task and are more focused.”
The school’s new cellphone policy came about gradually, with many consultations, since about a year and a half ago, when Westpark school officials learned that Lacombe Composite High School was going in this direction.
While most schools have some kind of phone restrictions, Pasiuk believes his middle school has gone further than most to ensure the devices don’t take away from classroom instructional time.
He said the “experiment” will be re-evaluated mid-year, when school officials will consider whether to enact the ban for the entire school day.