Banning cellphones from classrooms has gone so well in a small world that Portage High School Principal Robin Kvalo is thinking about the big one.
Next week, the school will host speaker Ali Maresh, who will talk to students and the Portage community about overusing technology and how it impacts a person’s well-being.
Maresh will speak to students during the day before presenting to the public at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18 in the high school auditorium.
“We’ve virtually had no issues” with the cellphone ban, Kvalo reported to the Portage School Board on Monday. “There are a couple kids who have given us a few negative responses to having their phones confiscated for the day, but what we’re hearing more and more is the kids are having conversations in classrooms.
“Kids are talking to one another, even in the commons at lunch — they’re not even going to their lockers to get their phone.”
More parents than ever before are contacting the high school office to get in touch with their children, “and that is evidence the phones are not in their (children’s) possession,” Kvalo added. The school so far is averaging about six cellphones confiscated from students per day, but most of those have been because students will sometimes accidentally bring their phones into the classroom after lunch.
The new policy, enacted by the school this summer, requires students to leave their phones in their lockers except between classes, at lunchtime or in the library, as long as instruction isn’t taking place there.
“We are just finding it to be a healthier environment,” Kvalo said. After the Daily Register published a story about the school’s new policy in July, Kvalo has been interviewed for stories by multiple TV news stations in the region, she said at a recent school board meeting.
“We are seeing younger and younger students walking around with smartphones,” she said, “and it is literally altering the way they communicate — their emotional-social well-being — and we are taking this very seriously.
Kvalo has stopped short of saying Portage High School might be a regional trailblazer in banning phones in class — focusing instead on Portage students — but she emphasized on Monday that the issue needs a longer look everywhere.
“This is a critical juncture to begin to have these conversations and make some changes, and I will tell you we are seeing positive changes at the high school because we made one simple change,” Kvalo said.
Student council leaders told the school board last month the change has been widely accepted by their peers, which the district’s director of building and grounds, Larry Messer, supported with an anecdote on Monday: “I was in there the other day with a contractor when my phone rang,” Messer told the board, “and one young guy came up to me and said, ‘To the office, mister.’”
Maresh in 2016 worked with the nation’s first technology addiction center, reSTART: Center for Technology Sustainability.
Tech Break, Maresh’s own company, offers tips to “help people create a balanced relationship with their devices to increase their quality of life,” according to her biography at techbreak.org. Maresh is a past communications professional at Georgetown University who soon became addicted to social media and her phone, “staying constantly connected as a way to cope with anxiety and depression, which inadvertently made things worse.”
Maresh hopes those who attend her presentation will learn from her story as well as “strategies to help families find balance in a very unbalanced world,” according to the promotional materials provided by Kvalo.
Kvalo and others in the district are encouraging all interested community members — particularly all parents — to attend this free event.