Twenty-five students sat in Anne Stephenson’s Advanced Placement biology class at Decatur High School last week with their Chromebooks open and their cellphones tucked away in a phone caddy in the corner of the room.
No students were texting or playing games on their phone. All eyes were on Stephenson.
Last school year, when cellphones were permitted in class, Stephenson said, “Students were more distracted by all of the buzzes and dings that would periodically go off during class.”
This year, she said, students’ focus has greatly increased.
A month into the student cellphone ban in all Decatur City Schools classes, many teachers and administrators are encouraged by results of the change. However, some students, such as Jackson Coffey, say they miss listening to music on their phones while studying.
Coffey says that now he is more easily distracted and less productive due to outside noises. Students are also concerned with the safety of their devices when they have to store them.
While Decatur High has left cellphone placement up to the teachers, Austin High Principal Melissa Scott and her staff decided to purchase phone caddies, which contain numbered, individual phone pockets, for each classroom.
Scott said that “while students are not allowed to use their phones in the class, there are several appropriate times such as lunch and class changes.”
Austin High student Wesley Lowman said he is skeptical of placing his phone inside a caddy, which many teachers use, due to the increased possibility of theft.
The ban on cellphone use during class was put in place by Decatur City Schools Superintendent Michael Douglas to reduce distractions while in the classroom and also to help prepare students for the workforce. The path for the ban was cleared when the district purchased Chromebooks for all students in grades 9-12.
While students in fourth through eighth grades have had computers provided by the school district, high school students were previously required to bring their own device, which was a cellphone for many.
Other surrounding school systems including Morgan County, Limestone County and Hartselle all have a bring-your-own computing device policy. Many students choose to bring a cellphone as their device.
Decatur Middle School teacher Taylor Christopher says the policy has been going well so far. She also said she has noticed an “enhanced level of attention and participation.” Since teachers are given discretion on where students place the phone, Christopher has opted for students to place their phones in a basket in the middle of a table. She says even though they are turned off, it helps put some students at ease just knowing that nobody will steal the phones.
Some students, despite the Chromebook, still wish their cellphone was by their side in class. Others, like Decatur High student Jack Lyons, believe that it “isn’t really a big deal” and that the new policy helps him concentrate on his work.
For now, those who want to study in class will have to do without their music.
“We received this policy from Central Office and it included no exceptions regarding listening to music,” said Decatur Assistant Principal Fred Abernathy.
Teacher Brad Boy of Decatur High said that getting used to the policy change hasn’t been easy for students, but most of them have done a good job adjusting. He also views the Chromebook as a powerful tool in replacing students’ dependence on their cellphones.