Not during school hours

September 20, 2005|by HIRA ZEB

Teenagers want to stay in touch with each other and with parents. So cell phones have become a universal accessory for high school students.

An organization called Student Monitor conducted a national survey and reported that about 33 percent of students had cell phones in the year 2000. This number increased to almost 90 percent in the 2004-05 school year.

With cell phones, parents can reach their children, stay in contact and check up on them before and after school. Cell phones also are useful when arranging rides and confirming information about extracurricular activities.

Cell phones are hugely popular with teens, but teachers and school officials aren't thrilled with the distraction cell phones cause in classrooms.


Two strikes and you're out

The cell phone policy in Washington County Public Schools' classroom is strict but flexible, according to Bo Myers, executive director of secondary school administration for WCPS.

"The policy is that students are permitted to carry cell phones with them throughout the day," Myers says. "However, they must be turned off during school hours, and put away where we cannot see them."

Martin Green, principal of Boonsboro High School, detailed the consequences of violating the cell phone policy.

"The first time a student violates the rule, we confiscate the cell phone and give it back at the end of the school day," he says. "The next time, however, we confiscate the phone and don't return it until June. That makes the students not want to use their phone during class."

Green says he has definitely noticed a major reduction in cell phone violations.

"We've had very few problems this school year so far, as compared to last year, where we had quite a few problems," he says. "It was almost an epidemic, but has by far improved."

Green has also taken notice of the upcoming technologies in cell phones. He says Boonsboro school administrators have suspected students use the text messaging tool for exchanging test answers, but they have not punished any students for it.

"We cannot say anything unless we've caught them in the act," he says.

Restricting use

The policy at St. Maria Goretti High School, a private Catholic school in Hagerstown, is similar to WCPS's.

Thomas Farrell, assistant principal at Goretti, said students may carry cell phones with them during school hours, but they cannot use them.

"(Cell phones) must be turned off from the moment (students) step foot on campus to the official end of the school day," Farrell says. "If a student needs to phone home for any reason, or a parent needs to contact their child, this can take place through the school office."

Students who ignore Goretti's policy face stiff consequences.

"Violators of the ... policies receive a letter of reprimand that is to be given to the parents, a central detention and loss of the privilege to carry their cell phones with them throughout the day," Farrell says.

He added that teachers and school officials are aware of cell phones' potential for distraction or worse.

English teacher Marty Amrhein says cell phones are a lot of fun for socializing, but that's not the point of school.

"There is a different purpose here. It is disrespectful to the teacher to make phone calls during the lesson," says Amrhein. "One of the advantages of a small classroom is that you know what everyone is doing and can keep the students actively engaged. I walk around the classroom a lot to try and keep the students busy and to (let them) know that I am paying attention to what they are doing."

Worse than distracting

Lisa Sullivan, English and French teacher at St. Maria Goretti High School, worries that cell phones might be used as a possible method of cheating, though she says she's never caught anyone cheating via cell phone in her class.

She also dislikes the camera included on many cell phones.

"I have had problems with camera phones before in class where students snap random pictures of me while I am teaching up at the podium," she says, "and it's quite disturbing."

More and more teens are using cell phones socially. Has cell phone abuse in the classroom improved or worsened over the past year? Sullivan says she hasn't seen an increase.

"I really think the abuse of cell phones is the same as last year," she says, "and I hope it does not get any worse with the new technologies."

Not all Goretti students agree with the school's cell phone policies.

"I don't think it's fair that we have to have our cell phones turned off during the day because we might get an important phone call, and there might be times in an emergency when we need instant access to a phone," says Corie Bruins, 16, and a junior at Goretti. "Excessive use to call friends would, of course, be unacceptable, but in my opinion we should be allowed to have them turned on for safety reasons."

Nabela Enam, 15 and a sophomore at Goretti, has a differing view.

"I like my phone a lot, and personally the policies at Goretti are not a problem for me because I don't get many phone calls during the day," Nabela says. "My parents know to call the office if they need to reach me."

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