Thursday, May 14, 2015

Cell Phone Friday

Tomorrow at Union Middle School is the first ever (and possibly last ever) Cell Phone Friday.

Cell Phone Friday came about through our school site council meetings over a year ago in the Spring of 2014. Here, students, parents, and Union Middle staff members discussed the benefits, the concerns, and everything in between about providing permission to our middle school students to use their cell phones during brunch (15 minutes in the morning) and lunch (30 minutes around noon). Currently, students are allowed to use their cell phones before school but when the first bell rings at 8:26 am, the phones need to be turned off and placed in their backpacks. When the final school bell rings at 2:50 pm, the phones are allowed to be taken out of their backpacks and turned on for usage. Students, with teacher permission and supervision, are allowed to use their cell phones during class for academic purposes. It is also worth noting that students can use tablets and kindles to read their e-books during brunch and lunch (and are encouraged to do so).

In our school site council meetings, almost every individual was against allowing students to use their cell phones during brunch or lunch. However, as we discussed the topic further, opinions quickly began to change. Ultimately, we decided to include the question during my end-of-the-year survey for our parent community. The results are this survey were overwhelmingly and a resounding "no".

Truthfully, I was a bit surprised by the results of the survey. I anticipated that many parents would click "no, not under any circumstances should UMS allow students to use their cell phones during the school day", I was very surprised to see a strong majority of over 80% of our survey-responding parent community select this option. It was one of the strongest consensus results of the survey. And with these results, I tabled the topic for the upcoming 2014-15 school year... until our ASB/Leadership class began to grant wishes.

With the best intentions, our ASB/Leadership class mimicked a "make a wish" activity that has become quite popular at our local high schools. The majority of student wishes were for immediate gratification, often asking for In & Out for lunch or a late pass to 1st period. A few of the wishes were more heartfelt, including one student who asked for help in purchasing and dedicating a bench at a nearby park to his deceased relative with whom they would spend their weekend afternoons together. There were a few wishes that led to puppy-gate 2014... and no, we could not purchase puppies for our students and their families. Somewhere in the middle of the pile, there were a half dozen wishes from our students who asked for permission to use their cell phones during brunch and lunch. In reading these wishes, the topic of Cell Phone Friday was reborn.

With the help of our ASB students, I wrote an announcement to share with our students this morning, also to be repeated tomorrow. I introduced the concept of Cell Phone Friday to our students, gave them permission to use their phones appropriately during brunch and lunch tomorrow, and reminded them that their choices tomorrow could very well determine future opportunities to use their cell phones during break times at school.

Not wanting our parent community to necessarily hear this news first hand from their students, I sent out two short Reminds explaining the plan and expectations for our students during Cell Phone Friday. Specifically, I shared: "Hi UMS-tomorrow is cell phone Friday. Students can use their phones (appropriately) @ brunch & lunch. This is a 1 time pilot & wish request. We will be supervising and using any poor student decisions as a teachable moment. Questions? Please send me a remind chat or email. -Todd" To date, I have received three emails from our parents about the one day wish request of students being allowed to use their cell phones during brunch and lunch.

One parent was very direct that they did not believe that students should use their cell phones at school and that they should be banned altogether from our campus. Another parent was very interested on the thought process that went into the decision, indicating that they were quite certain that our students would be quite happy tomorrow at school. The third parent wrote a longer email that was a beautiful way to start a dialogue about appropriate and timely cell phone use on a middle school campus. I responded to all three parents and shared how much I appreciated their communication and that I looked forward to more conversation about this topic as this generation of digital natives promote through our school.

And so tomorrow is almost here. Cell Phone Friday will be one of three things: (1) a complete disaster with chaos lingering around every corner, (2) a day like any other with little difference despite some cell phone usage, or most likely (3) some great opportunities to have guided discussions about the appropriate use of cell phone use with some great principal selfies thrown in. Wish us luck.

(My next post linked here goes into my everchanging beliefs about cell phone usage on a middle school campus and where our rapidly approaching future days will lead us. The third post <also eventually linked and dependent on how quickly my daughters fall asleep tomorrow> will detail how successful Cell Phone Friday was at Union Middle. I hope you enjoy the reads.)

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