No personal electronics at Cedar Heights

Wired students beware: Your days of texting and listening to iPods are numbered at Cedar Heights Junior High, as the administration will implement new rules banning electronic devices.

The seemingly ubiquitous electronic devices — cell phones, mp3 players, and hand-held game systems — widely used today will be forbidden at Cedar Heights between 7:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. starting this fall when class resumes for the 2007-08 school year.

Previously, electronic devices were allowed with teacher permission only.

Teachers and administrators listed many reasons for the ban. Principal Bruce Dearborn said students using electronic devices disrupt class, spend time focusing on things other than school and often lose the items to theft.

Additionally, the administration doesn’t know if the content students are playing or downloading on personal devices is appropriate for the age group.

Students have also been found texting answers to tests to their classmates.

After a vote from teachers and staff, the school opted to restrict entirely the use of electronic devices.

The decision follows similar action at Olympic High School and Klahowya Secondary School in the Central Kitsap School District, and aligns with a debate being held in Federal Way Public Schools, where some are encouraging the Board of Education to ban the use of electronic devices district-wide.

In Federal Way, the board chose to compile opinions from principals at all of the schools to determine if a district-wide policy was necessary and desired.

Otherwise, Chairman Ed Barney said schools could decide on an individual basis.

The South Kitsap School Dis-trict has no policy for the schools, and even South Kitsap High School’s handbook leaves the question open, said Community Relations Director Aimee Warthen.

The handbook lists consequences involving electronic devices, but does not set rules forbidding or allowing them on campus.

At Cedar Heights, Dearborn said the decision has been long in the works.

“It’s been an on-going conversation while I’ve been here,” Dearborn said. “Electronic devices have become incredibly intrusive in the school day. We find that more and more students have their own personal electronic devices. Even three years ago, it was not quite the issue it has become.”

Administrators found that the prevalence of personal electronic devices, especially personal music players like iPods, Zunes or Zens, are far more than just tools to the students.

At Cedar Heights, adminis-tration accepted statements from students about the new rule. Students said their music was an extension of their personality, and it helped set their mood.

“It revealed to me the depth of this trend in the eye of the student,” Dearborn said. “They are their music. Music is their life — pretty all-encompassing statements.”

Some students, Dearborn said, often claim that listening helps them focus on their work. However, the schools in Central Kitsap found the opposite when looking into the research.

Olympic High School Assistant Principal Doyle Clouser began researching the issue to determine whether the school needed a stricter policy.

“It had been an ongoing problem that students would be connecting to their iPod making the claim that they can study better,” Clouser said, adding that research shows otherwise. “You can’t get deep conceptual learning when your mind is occupied with two or more things.”

While people can do simple manual activities, like doing the dishes or mowing the lawn, listening to music or watching television while studying impairs retention and deep conceptual learning.

Dearborn hopes that removing the music and the personal devices will help students learn more natural or “old-fashioned” methods of mood management.

One other issue administrators faced was parents.

With the omnipresence of wireless communication devices in families, students and parents have come to expect instant communication.

In Federal Way, the use of electronic devices helped alert schools to a problem on campus. A student sent a text message to her mother with her cell phone, claiming that another student had guns and ammunition on campus.

The mother alerted the school, and the armed student was found.

But Dearborn said that schools already have systems in place for emergencies.

“Those situations are rare, and they’re extreme,” Dearborn said. “And they also circumvent the importance of people who need that information.”

Using cell phones to communicate outside the school cuts out the administration and teachers who might need to know about a problem.

In the case of a family emergency, it’s often safer and better for the student to communicate with a parent outside of hallways and classrooms, in a more private area, Dearborn said.

Clouser said the switch to no electronics has worked well at Olympic High. He said students are more focused, and the community has grown since students took their headphones out of their ears and starting talking with each other.

He said the school cafeteria is much louder this year, as students are stepping out from behind their headphones and socializing.

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