When the current academic year kicked off at San Mateo High School in San Mateo, California, there was one big change awaiting students: The Bay area high school is now a cell phone-free school, and the largest in the nation to implement this policy. From the first bell of the day to the last, students can’t access their phones, except during emergencies.
The new policy requires students secure their phones in pouches using magnetized locks before the first class of the day and leave them there until the end of the day, even during brunch, lunch, and other breaks. After the final bell rings, teachers help students retrieve their phones.
Assistant Principal Adam Gelb spoke with Parentology about the school’s move to go phone-free.
“It was really driven by teachers who were feeling overwhelmed with having to constantly police and navigate the challenges of screens in their classrooms,” he says.
So a trial program was launched prior to the 2019-2020 school year to test out a screen-free environment. This involved a portion of the student population in a two-month-long trial period, who gave feedback along with teachers. After a successful pilot program, the school rolled it out to the entire student body of 1,800.
A New Trend
San Mateo High School is part of a growing number of cell phone-free schools.
Lumen Christi High School in Anchorage, Alaska, and Crestwood High School in Mantua, Ohio, are two such schools. The reasons range from a need for increased engagement from the students to bringing the focus back to teaching in the classroom. Even protecting students while in school.
Teacher Alison Craig at Lumen Christi told Anchorage Daily News that among issues that come with cell phone use in the school, is students taking unsolicited photos of each other and posting them on social media channels like Snapchat.
“It was a subtle form of bullying going on at all times,” she said.
Crestwood High school Principal Dave McMahon echoed this when explaining the decision for his school, the first in its county, to go cell phone-free this year.
“Instances of bullying, cyberbullying, discipline and general distractions were on the rise and were having a significant impact on the academic setting here at Crestwood,” he told Record Courier.
After a few weeks of the policies going into effect, the schools have seen positive changes.
At Lumen Christi, staff reported students being engaged with each other during breaks and at lunch. Importantly, teachers noticed increased participation and focus in class, according to Anchorage Daily News.
And the students? In large, they just went with it.
“Seven hours without a phone seems like a foreign idea,” Gelb admits, “but a few weeks in and students are getting used to it. They’re seeing there isn’t a need to have a screen with them all the time.”
He says while there are kinks to work out, the school is noticing one encouraging trend.
“We’re not seeing a need for teachers to police it [cell phone use] as much anymore. We’ve got students calling each other out for using phones when they shouldn’t be.”
And that’s one form of peer pressure these schools can get behind.
Cell Phone-Free Schools: Sources
Anchorage Daily News: To Reduce Distractions, This Anchorage High School Has Gone Cellphone Free
Record Courier: Schools Battle Cellphone Addiction