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'Away for the Day' asks students across district to hang up during school time

PMG FILE  PHOTO - Getting students to stop using cell phones at lunch and class breaks and interact with each other is the goal of the WL-WV School District. Middle schools in the West Linn-Wilsonville School District have launched a new initiative this year to encourage students to stay off their phones throughout the day.

"Away for the Day" requires students to refrain from using cell phones during the school day.

The initiative applies to all middle schools in the district, pulling together the varying policies in place at schools in recent years into a single policy for all.

The policies regarding cell phone use in school varied last year, with some schools allowing phone use during lunch or passing periods or not having a formal policy at all.

Barb Soisson, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, said there were several factors that prompted the unified program.

Increased understanding about the impact of cell phones on functioning and student performance have shown that cell phones in classes are "not a good way to model for students to learn," Soisson said.

"As we learn more about the effects of screen time and their impacts on developing brains, we would like to encourage families to support their students in leaving phones and other electronic devices at home or locked in their locker for the day," read a newsletter from Rosemont Ridge Middle School principal Debi Briggs-Crispin before school started in August.

"Another element was for school safety, in terms of bullying and harassment," Soissons continued. While the schools cover curriculum on media use, instances of students misusing phones and social media were an issue. "It was just at a point where it was contributing to students' feelings of discomfort," Soisson said.

"There's an equity piece," Soisson continued. Who has a cellw phone, and who has the newest, most advanced cell phone, were unnecessary distractions to the class, she said.

"Teachers have all (the) resources that are needed for students in their classrooms," said Stephanie Gettel, president of the Rosemont Ridge Parent Teacher Association.

"The students don't need a phone during class. Their job, to me, is to learn and keep their attention on that, not their phones," Gettel said.

Soisson said the effects of the updated policy have been visible during lunch periods already this year.

"If you bring children together to learn together during the day, sometimes the devices can actually isolate them," Soisson said. "(Teachers) notice that there's heightened activity and interaction among students during lunch (when their phones are away),"

Before the rule was implemented, some students used to be staring at cell phones during breaks and not engaging with classmates, Soisson said.

"Away for the Day" isn't a big shift from past years, but came through conversations with school staff, parents, student leadership groups and student advisory, according to administration.

"We will continue, each school year, to revise this," Soisson said of the policy. "We would like to move ultimately toward something where it's not just 'Let's not have them out,' but it's more educative. ... As they mature and know how to use something, they can use it better.

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