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Cell phone limits at Nevis School have positive impacts

Students are allowed to use their phones in the hall between classes, during their lunch break, and on the bus. The rest of the time they are supposed to keep their cell phones in their pocket.

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Nevis seventh graders like, front, from left, Kiazah, Caiden and Sophie and, back row, Dacia, Avery and Wyatt are only allowed to use their phones before and after school, during breaks between classes and at lunch.
Contributed / Aubrey Capecchi
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Nevis School’s policy team decided to ban cell phone use during the day for students in K-5, beginning this fall. That policy was later expanded to include students in grades 6-8.

“The team cited a lack of focus on school work, cyberbullying and the distraction caused by cell phones,” Superintendent Gregg Parks said. “We feel the grassroots movement started by parents and staff is making a difference for our kids.”

Students are allowed to use their phones in the hall between classes, during their lunch break, and on the bus. The rest of the time they are supposed to keep their cell phones in their pocket.

One of the classes Aubrey Capecchi teaches is U.S. history. She said he has seen positive results with her seventh grade class.

“We are not seeing cell phones in the classroom at all,” she said. “That means it’s not taking up my time telling students to put them away or turn them off, so I can focus my attention on helping them with class work.”

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She said that, before COVID, students were allowed to have their phones as long as they kept them in their pocket. After students returned to school from distance learning, she said teachers had many more issues with cell phones.

“It’s like students were physically attached to their phones,” she said. “They were pulling them out far more often.”

Social skills and bullying

Capecchi said she believes this policy is helping students build social skills.

“They're still a little behind where they were before COVID, but without the cell phones I’ve seen a huge leap back to being on track to where they need to be for their age,” she said.

Another big benefit she has seen is a reduction in bullying.

“I have not noticed the problems with bullying this year that I noticed last year,” she said. “I think that has a lot to do with the limited cell phone use. Last year, someone would text someone else with a rumor and that would start a storm of lots of people texting and snapping about it. It’s a lot easier to text something than to say something mean to someone in person and see their facial reaction.”

Helping students focus

Capecchi said cell phones are a huge distraction for students. When she asked students in her classes if they could focus on school work when they heard their phone vibrate, most of them admitted they couldn’t until they could check their phones.

“They said their brains were thinking about if that was a snap or a message or a notification,” she said. “I told them that’s one of the reasons we have this cell phone policy – so they can focus on what they’re supposed to be learning.”

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Parents have also had to adjust to the new cell phone policy.

“We have a surprising number of students and parents who like to stay in touch with each other throughout the day,” she said. “I think that started during COVID, when parents would text students at home to see if they were doing their work and just to keep in touch. That habit is still there in the minds of parents.

“I understand they want to check in on their child, but if there is something urgent parents can always call the school office and leave a message to call home, or have them called down to the office for a phone call. And if their child is sick, the school nurse will call.”

Learning good work habits

As part of the new cell phone policy, Capecchi said she believes students are learning self-regulation and time management.

“The goal is to help them focus now and build good habits for when they get into high school,” she said. “We still see high school students struggling with cell phone use. Self-regulation is so important. You’re not always going to have a parent or teacher there to tell you to put your phone away and focus.

“In the real world, pulling your cell phone out constantly is not acceptable. Your employer isn’t going to sit with you and tell you to put your cell phone away. You might get a warning or two at your job about your cell phone use and then you're gone.”

Capecchi said research has shown that middle school students don’t have good time-management skills.

“When they pull their phone out, they may think they’ve only been on it for four minutes and it will have been 30 minutes,” she said. “That can get them in trouble with getting their work done.”

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Student responses

Capecchi said one of the main concerns expressed by students when the new policy went into effect was not being able to contact their parents in case of an emergency or schedule change.

“If a student comes to me and says basketball practice changed and they need to text their mom, I let them,” she said. “When they ask permission, we generally allow that.”

Another concern expressed by students is how to call for help if there’s an active shooter, something she has discussed with them.

“Part of the training with an active shooter is that everyone shouldn’t get on their phone,” she said. “It can jam up emergency signals and cell towers. All of the adults in the building have cell phones and would notify the police.”

When she asked her seventh graders about the policy, some of the feedback they shared was that it is inconvenient to go to their lockers to get their cell phones before lunch, that they would like to be able to use their phone calculator in class and that they would like to be able to use their phones as a reward at the end of a class for good behavior.

But many also see the benefits of the policy.

“The rule helps us focus on school work more instead of just focusing on our phones,” seventh grader Riley Kram said.

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Lorie Skarpness has lived in the Park Rapids area since 1997 and has been writing for the Park Rapids Enterprise since 2017. She enjoys writing features about the people and wildlife who call the north woods home.
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