Portage High School sees positive results after banning phones in class

Published: Sep. 11, 2018 at 8:45 PM CDT
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It has been a year since Portage High School implemented a new cell phone policy that bans cell phones from the classroom, hallways, and bathrooms.

Portage High School Principal Robin Kvalo said the policy change was sparked by teachers, and teachers are pleased with the results of the ban.

"My teachers said at the end of last year when I surveyed them, its the best policy that we've ever implemented in the high school," Kvalo said. "They finally feel like they can teach and not have to worry about who is on their phone, or texting someone or just playing a game and they really feel like the students are more attentive now."

Students are required to place their phone in their lockers during class. They are allowed to check their phones between periods, and can also have them at lunch. Kvalo said parents have also responded positively, and that parents don't feel too disconnected from their child, since they can still communicate at lunch.

"Parents are getting very used to having access to their children 24/7. Sometimes they send them a text message, and they like the idea that they are able to check their phone. They certainly have it at lunch time, before and after school."

Further, she said some parents have insisted the school hold onto their child's confiscated phone.

"We've had a number of parents, who, when their student or their child has had their cell phone taken because they did bring it into the classroom, when they've come to pick it up, they've said 'you can keep it,' because they shouldn't have had it in the classroom," Kvalo explained.

The most pleasantly surprising effect Kvalo has noticed from the change is in the students' mental health.

"We found that it was this device that, for some of our students, caused anxiety - might lead to some of the depression we've seen in students, the mental health issues. Because they are beginning to define themselves by this social media presence," Kvalo said.

Even though some students have gone as far as bringing a 'dummy phone' to class to turn in if caught on their phone, other students feel a weight has been lifted while in school.

"We had students come up to us last year who said they finally feel relieved- that they're not worried about who is Snapchatting, what's on Facebook, what's on Instagram. They're getting a break. So we really do feel like it might be helping with some of the anxiety and the mental health issues that are going on."

The effect also transcends into a noticeable decrease in cyber-bullying.

"We used to call Mondays 'Facebook Mondays' because over the weekend, you'd get that bullying over the social media. So then on Monday, they would continue it when they were in the class with those phones, and that has reduced dramatically," Kvalo said. "I'm not saying there's not bullying going on on social media, unfortunately students are still not using it the way they should."

The policy change has also grabbed the attention of school districts across the county, Kvalo said. Schools from Vermont to California have personally reached out to her to hear the results of the change.

"I have had probably 25 calls from around the country asking about the cell phone policy- how did you implement it, what was it driven by, hows it going, because our school board, our teachers, our parents want to see us go to a policy like that."

Kvalo emphasized that it was the teachers that brought the issue to her attention, and that the change was truly voted on and driven by, her teaching staff.

"It is the best thing I've done for kids in my career, and I'm on 25th year of doing this job, she said. "I am so proud that my school took the step last year to take cell phones out of the classroom so that our kids can focus on learning."