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Luxemburg-Casco Middle School pilot initiative “Away for the Day” removes smart devices during school day

An innovative pilot initiative, where students are not allowed to access their smart devices during the school day, has been implemented this year at Luxemburg-Casco Middle School. Known as “Away for the Day,” the program is based around research showing that teens do better in school with their phones away.

Now in the third full week of the new school year, Middle School Principal Todd Chandler believes that the initiative has been positively received.

“‘Why are we doing this, and why now,’ are two questions I frequently receive,” says Chandler. “The short answer is that we want our students’ attention and focus back. We believe – and research supports – that by eliminating personal smart devices, schools are seeing increases in academic performance, increases in face-to-face communication, a reduction in social issues and decreases in unkind acts and bullying.

“We understand there won’t 100 percent agreement on this solution and that it may not be popular with everyone. But it feels like it’s time to do something, even if it isn’t perfect. We think it is going to have an impact.” Chandler presented on “Away for the Day” at the
Aug. 21 Open House event.

A survey on student technology use was sent out earlier this year to parents and guardians of rising seventh- and eighth-grade students. Almost four in five parents (78.2%) were either in favor, or strongly in favor, of proposed technology restrictions during the school day. The survey also noted that 89 percent of the district’s middle-school students have a personal cell phone.

The roughly 300 middle-school students are required to leave all of their personal technology in their lockers from first bell to last bell of the school day, 7:37 a.m.-3:07 p.m. Prohibited technology includes cell phones, smart watches, air pods and any other technology not assigned by the school

Parents and guardians who need to contact their student during the school day can do so the old-fashioned way, through the school’s main office. Students are allowed to use their personal technology before and after the school day, along with checking messages from home prior to going to lunch.

Restrooms and locker rooms remain as prohibited areas for student technology use.

The school’s previous cell-phone policy for students was the Red Zone/Green Zone model. Green Zones indicated times and places when technology use was acceptable. Red Zones were times and places when devices should be put away, silenced and notifications turned off.

Red Zone locations typically included restrooms, locker rooms, during class (unless an exception is made by a teacher) and anytime the student is asked to put away the technology. Green Zones were before and after school, during lunch and recess, as well as in the cafeteria.

The amount of time a student spends on personal technology, including social media, negatively affectsstudent grades, according to Chandler.

Research shared by the team that developed the “Away for the Day” initiative showed that college students who were not using their cell phones wrote down 62 percent more information in their class notes and scored a letter-and-a-half grade higher on multiple choice tests than students who were actively using their phones. The effect is more impactful on low-achieving students than it is on students
who already are high achievers.

When schools in England banned mobile phones, the test scores of 16-year-old students increased by 6.4%. Moreover, research has shown that students who are regularly interrupted by text messages average 10.6% lower on test scores.

Increases in student behavioral issues during the 2019-20 school year caused L-C Middle School teachers and staff to be in favor of limiting student personal technology during the school day. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March 2020 and normal school operations were halted, the idea was put on hold.

The district’s focus on virtue for its students – socially and emotionally, mental health – necessitated that the idea be revisited now that regular school routines have resumed.

During the most recent school year, 2022-23, there were 593 documented student behavioral incidents, or approximately 3.5 per day (more than one student may have a documented referral for the same incident). These incidents included 60 deemed Major (typically physical aggression) and 531 labeled Minor.

Many incidents range from unkind acts to potential bullying. In practice, teen boys are physical and teen girls are relational. Not all incidents are specifically related to use of personal technology devices, but there are a number of correlations, according to Chandler.

For the first offense/violation of the “Away for the Day” policy, a staff member takes the personal technology device and brings it to
the school office; the student can pick it up at the end of the day. A second offense is handled in the same manner.

Should a third offense occur, the personal technology device also is brought to the school office. However, it must be picked up by a parent or guardian.

A fourth offense requires that the offending student check in his or her device at the office every morning for three weeks, picking it up at day’s end.

For a fifth offense, a meeting is scheduled between Principal Chandler and the student and parent/guardian to discuss further consequences and use restrictions.

Transition to the initiative has been easier for seventh-graders, who are coming into the Middle School from the Intermediate School, according to Chandler, adding that the learning curve has been higher for eighth-graders who were in the Middle School last year.

The number of electronic devices arriving at the school office has declined significantly since the first four to five days of the school year, Chandler says.

Middle-school students have been receiving instruction around smart-device effects and protocols during their physical-education classes. Chandler expects to have a better idea on the viability of the initiative in a few more weeks.

The new policy initiative will be evaluated throughout the current school year. Whether it continues in future school years – and if other district school buildings choose to adopt the program – will be determined by district leadership based on its deemed success or  failure.