How two districts helped students disconnect from devices

Schools in Michigan and Montana require students to leave phones in lockers
By: | May 12, 2020
A group of students at Forest Hills Central High School in Michigan used handheld recorders instead of their cell phones this year to capture interviews for the ”The Central Trend” student news siteA group of students at Forest Hills Central High School in Michigan used handheld recorders instead of their cell phones this year to capture interviews for the ”The Central Trend” student news site

Can students survive an entire school day without their smartphone screens? How about a whole school year? The answer is a resounding yes in at least two districts.

Six months of surveying the community—and of researching the links between smartphone use and teen anxiety and depression—led administrators at Kalispell Middle School in Montana to require students to leave phones in their lockers from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Students could previously check their phones between classes and at lunch. And teachers had discretion over whether the devices could be used for research or other class activities.

Since the rule change, homeroom teachers are leading the school’s screen time reduction initiatives.

For example, they have held class discussions about how cell phone use at night—particularly when students listen for the pings of social media posts—leads to poor sleep that can affect memory, says Jeff Hornsby, assistant principal at Kalispell Middle School, part of Kalispell Public Schools.

Staff also report no longer seeing students glued silently to their phones in the cafeteria. “I’ve had several students thank me for adjusting the policy because now, they have people they can actually talk to during lunch,” Hornsby says.


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The 10,000 students attending Forest Hills Public Schools in Grand Rapids, Michigan, were also told at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year to leave phones in their lockers during the academic day.

Students, especially high schoolers, have said they have enjoyed the time away from having to manage their devices, Superintendent Dan Behm says. “I’ve even had students tell me they’ve made new friends.”

Students report feeling more content, focused and refreshed, and this led them to also reduce their use of phones and social media outside school, Behm says.

“In my 19 years as a superintendent, this is one of the easiest things I’ve ever implemented,” Behm says.


Read the other stories in DA’s series on healthy screen-time use:

  1. 4 concepts for balancing screen time in the online learning era.
  2. How educators can encourage digital wellness.
  3. Why educators need to change their ed-tech message.
  4. How to create a healthy ed-tech culture in class and at home.


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