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If You Can't Beat Them.....Join Them!
Solving the Cell phone "Problem" at Greeneville High School
Dr. Linda B. Stroud, Principal
Do you know anyone who can look you in the eye and carry on a conversation while furiously and proficiently texting in their hoodie pocket without detection even under your most intense scrutiny? If you are a secondary teacher or administrator, you probably know hundreds of such people. They are called teenagers!
Misuse of cell phones by students is a rampant problem in most secondary schools across the U.S., and administrators are scrambling to find policies and solutions that effectively deal with this "problem." The same was true at Greeneville High School. In 2007-2008, cell phone policy violation was the number one student behavior issue and was seriously impeding the effectiveness of the school discipline plan. The policy of "no cell phones in sight and no cell phone usage during the school day" was simply not working. It had gotten so bad that our discipline committee was researching cell phone transmission blockers for our campus (that is illegal, by the way!).
In 2008-2009 we changed our entire cell phone policy. But more importantly, we changed our beliefs about student cell phone usage in our school. We finally came to understand that cell phones are neither toys nor a fad. They are not going away. They are, in fact, a powerful technology tool we should be utilizing for teaching and learning. Just think about all the things that one can do with most cell phones: make calls, text, take pictures and video, email, and connect to the internet. And the beauty of it is that they cost us nothing. Parents are paying for our students' cell phones!
Therefore, because of this revelation, this past year we began using cell phones as instructional tools at GHS. Teachers are encouraged to have students use their cell phones to blog to class web pages, do video and audio podcasts, find word translations, and calculate currency conversion rates. Students utilize their phones for research and as dictionaries by accessing Google (text 466453) or ChaCha (text 242242 or dial 1-800-2-chacha). Students even use their phones as individual "clickers" for summative assessments by accessing the free site polleverywhere.com. In fact, all 1000 students and staff members at GHS voted in our school-wide 2008 presidential election by using polleverywhere.com and we all watched our school election results come in live on graphs displayed on classroom televisions. Students are also encouraged to use the calendar and notepad functions on their phones to document homework assignments and set the alarm function as a reminder to study for tests and exams. This has eliminated the necessity of those expensive "school planners" that normally end up at the bottom of a locker. These are just a few examples of how cell phones can be used as learning tools.
We are often asked, "What about students who do not have cell phones?" Our finding is that the vast majority of our students do have a cell phone of some type. In fact, a GHS student survey revealed that 98% of our students have a cell phone at school, even though almost 45% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch. For differences in cell phone capabilities, and for students who do not have phones, we simply use cooperative learning and differentiate the assignments based on cell phone function, just as we differentiate instruction for student abilities and learning styles.
While the use of cell phones as instructional tools is highly motivating for both students and teachers in the classroom, we do not just turn our students loose all day to use their cell phones to text their friends! Students are not to have phones in sight without permission from the time they enter the school in the morning until the final dismissal bell rings in the afternoon. This includes any cell phone usage in the halls, cafeteria, on bus duty, etc. Students are now required to place cell phones on the desks at the beginning of each class in the "off" or "silent" mode, or in a central location such as a basket. This takes away students' ability to text undetected in hoodie pockets! If a student touches a phone or one rings or buzzes during class, students are effectively "busted" as there is no question as to whose phone was in use. Students may only use phones in class for instructional purposes with teacher permission and under the direction of the teacher.
We also changed the consequence portion of our cell phone policy. If a student breaks these simple rules, the cell phone is taken by the teacher and sent to the main office with a form documenting the student name, teacher name, and date the phone was confiscated. The phone is then kept in the main office for seven days. Seven days is a purposeful number because students and parents will not typically purchase another phone during a seven day period. However, in the past we found that due to the reduction in the cost of cell phones, if a phone was taken for a period of 30 days or the remainder of the school year the student would simply buy a new phone. Additionally, a seven-day period of time will include a weekend without a cell phone for students, which they want to avoid at all cost!
If a student simply cannot live without his or her phone for seven days, or if a parent objects to not being able to communicate with his child for a week, our new policy allows for a choice other than the seven day confiscation. Students may come to the office at the end of the school day, and for a $20 fine they may have the phone returned! They cannot pay the fine until the end of the day. We have found that our students will gladly pay the $20 in order to have the phone returned, but they do not want to pay $20 multiple times, which has resulted in compliance with the policy! Parents have also been very supportive of this novel approach and usually insist that the student pay the fine himself in order to have the phone returned. Additionally, we took the cell phone policy violation out of the GHS discipline policy, greatly reducing the number of lunch detentions for such violations. We have found the consequences of keeping the phone for seven days or the $20 fine to be more effective than a separate discipline infraction. We do, however, still consider it a major violation of our discipline policy if a student refuses to comply with a teacher for a phone confiscation or if a student misuses a cell phone at school for the purpose of inappropriate pictures, videos, texts, etc. Thankfully, those types of incidents were not issues during the 2008-2009 school year.
The results of our new policy are in. Simply put, it's working! If you consider that we have 900 students at GHS, multiplied by four classes per day, and then multiplied by 180 school days, those figures equal a total of 648,000 opportunities for student cell phone violations. At Greeneville High School during the 2008-2009 school year, we only had 137 cell phone violations. Of those 137, thirty-four students chose to leave his or her cell phone in the office for seven days. One hundred and three students chose to pay the $20 fine, resulting in a total of $2060 in cell phone fines. All of that money was spent on our students. The fine money was used to provide a reward day this spring for our senior class who won our GHS Spirit initiative, a year-long school spirit competition among our four grade levels. The seniors were treated to a day at a local retreat center and enjoyed a low ropes course, games, a cook-out lunch, and time to be together with their friends.
Cell phone technology has definitely changed the way we look at our policies at Greeneville High School. Cell phones are no longer a problem at GHS, but are now considered to be powerful technology tools to be used for teaching and learning. All it takes is a change in paradigm and policy!