'Kids were just more and more distracted': Meadow Lake school ditching cellphones in the classroom

Jonas Samson Middle School in Meadow Lake has begun banning cellphones in the classroom this year.

Mother lukewarm on change, says cellphones help her directly communicate with her kids

Twelve students had to hand over their cellphones after violating Herring Cove Junior High's cellphone ban. (CBC)

Principal Jim Snodgrass used to welcome the image of a student with one or two earbuds popped in, listening to music on their cellphone while they did schoolwork.

It meant that music, along with cameras and calculators, were all within arm's reach for most students at Jonas Samson Junior High School in Meadow Lake, Sask.

The school had decided years ago to embrace using cellphones in the classroom because of the technology they came with.

But as time went by, Snodgrass started seeing those earbuds as a symbol of distracted students ignoring their teachers. And the music wasn't all the students had access to.

"Slowly but surely, games crept in there, social media for sure. Snap stories and Snapstreaks. And kids were just more and more distracted," Snodgrass recalled on CBC's The Morning Edition.

Jonas Samson Middle School in Meadow Lake has begun banning cellphones in the classroom this year. (Submitted by Jim Snodgrass)

Students sharing memes, pictures and videos among themselves weren't all being nice to each other either, he said.

Some would use their cellphones to quietly send mean things to other students and gossip among themselves. Tensions would rise, leaving teachers to deal with outside influences as they boiled over in their classrooms, Snodgrass said.

This year, when Jonas Samson and Gateway schools in Meadow Lake changed their grade range to become middle schools for students between grades 5 to 8, Jonas Samson decided to follow Gateway's lead on having a cellphone ban.

Teachers at Jonas Samson now tell their students to keep their cellphones in their lockers or at home.

It's not an outright, non-negotiable ban: teachers can ask students to bring their cellphones on specific days if they have schoolwork that requires a phone.

Gina Schwartz, pictured with son Hunter and daughter Sage, said juggling her job and four children means texting can be a good communication tool when plans change during the day. (Submitted by Gina Schwartz)

Parent's perspective

When Gina Schwartz sent her son Hunter off to Grade 7 at Jonas Samson last week, it was the first time she'd allowed him to take a cellphone to school.

Her older daughter had carried a cellphone with her throughout high school, and Schwartz was happy she'd be able to text with her son to help plan extracurricular pickups and let him know if her work schedule for the day was changing.

She doesn't mind the rules as they've been laid out to her — children can check their phones in their locker briefly while they're on break, so she's not missing out on communicating with Hunter throughout the day — but she also isn't worried about the same things as Snodgrass.

Schwartz said she's overheard students say they are still able to sneak their phones into class in their pants' pockets anyway.

Students communicating on social media during class is no different from passing letters, in Schwartz's view, and she said both acts require teachers to monitor and quash distractions.

As for worries about social media being used for negative interactions during school hours, she said the behaviour will just continue after the final bell.

Schwartz said when her daughter had been in a school lockdown in recent years, they'd been able to check in with each other because her daughter had a cellphone while in class.

"It sounds maybe eccentric, but I liked having that direct connection," Schwartz said.

Principal seeing early signs of change

Only six days into the school year, the dreaded thought of meekly asking a student wearing earbuds to pull them out so they can hear what's going on in class has disappeared for Snodgrass.

He's only seen one student with an earbud in, and it has become so rare that it startled him.

"It really made me reflective of, wait a minute, this is kind of working right now and our teachers are appreciating it. I think our kids are coming into class not distracted. They're coming in, sitting down, talking and then the lesson starts," he said.

Snodgrass said removing the social media use in school is a way of reducing stress for students who never seemed to get a reprieve from all the things people were sending before.

with files from The Morning Edition