A tiny blue reminder note drew a mix of rolling eyeballs and sighs last week as Mountain Pointe High School students picked up their books and schedules for the new school year.
Beginning today, the Ahwatukee Foothills students will not be allowed to carry electronic devices on campus. That means no iPods, no MP3 players, no cameras, no pagers and no CD players.
These items “are unnecessary to our educational process,” the policy states.
Cell phones will be an exception. But these must now be turned off and kept hidden during school hours — even during lunch and between classes.
The school is the first in the Tempe Union High School District to take such a drastic step. But the battle over digital technology has been brewing for years at schools across the East Valley.
“It’s ridiculous,” Mountain Pointe junior Joanna Anthony said. “Teachers think it’s a distraction, but I can still get my work done. We’ve grown up with these things. This is just a pain.”
Pain comes close to describing how Mountain Pointe administrators view the matter.
They blame electronic devices for an increase in classroom interruptions, cheating and theft. “The amount of disruption these devices create has brought us to this point,” assistant principal Bruce Kipper said.
He said the need to extend the ban outside classrooms was felt because the campus has two lunch periods. “Some kids are at lunch and they text their friends who are still in class,” he said.
CAMPUS CULTURE CLASH
New York-based futurist Marc Prensky sees the debate as a type of culture clash.
He has coined the term “digital native” to describe those in the generation who grew up with digital multitasking as part of their native culture.
He said “digital immigrants” who grew up without iPods, MP3 players and cell phones struggle to understand this, and school administrators are short-sighted when they make students give up their digital tools instead of embracing them.
“The point is to redefine what teaching means so the students can use the tools they’re accustomed to,” he said. “Phones and iPods can be used in the academic setting in a nondisruptive way. It’s pure lack of imagination why it’s not being done.”
Prensky said educators need to keep pace with changing technology so they can bridge the cultural divide.
Anna Battle, principal at Desert Vista High School in Ahwatukee Foothills, agreed to an extent.
She said handheld technology can be useful in the classroom when teachers keep themselves up-to-date. But she said many students use the technology to socialize rather than to learn.
Prensky countered that using workplace technology for more than one purpose is natural.
“God forbid a parent uses an official cell phone to make a personal call, or a work computer to send personal e-mails,” he said. “If that’s considered normal, why can’t the same be applied to students?”
PARENTS WEIGH IN
Many parents across the East Valley oppose cell phone bans at school. But their reasons are often different than those of their children.
Chandler Unified School District spokesman Terry Locke said parents want cell phones on campus to coordinate pick-up times with their children and to know they’re safe.
“Technically, the policy is we don’t allow them,” he said. “But the reality is high school students use them. Parents like students to have cell phones, and it’s not like we go around checking backpacks.”
Kathy Leach, the mother of a Mountain Pointe freshman, said she supports the school’s new policy as long as her son is allowed to carry his cell phone to use before and after school.
“I can see how kids might use cell phones to cheat,” she said. “Mine better not. But I would want him to be able to carry one to school for emergencies.”
Ohio-based school security consultant Kenneth Trump supports any type of ban. He said parents create new headaches for school administrators when they use cell phones to check in with their children during school.
“Parents come to school during emergencies,” Trump said. “And evacuations become difficult to handle.”
He said cell phones also accelerate rumors on campus and cause other harm. He said letting students carry cell phones on campus is like giving children chocolate bars and expecting them not to eat them.
“It’s unrealistic,” he said.
BEATING THE SYSTEM
Regardless of the new policy, Mountain Pointe students say they already have plans to get around the ban.
They said they can put phones in their backpacks and pretend to look inside for something, or they can use their phones in restrooms.
Sophomore Nicole Schulke said cell phones and iPods are easily hidden under sweatshirts or the desk. Clutching her T-Mobile Sidekick in her hand, she said last year a teacher confiscated her phone as she was caught textmessaging a friend in a geography class.
“But I continue to use it,” Schulke said.
Mountain Pointe sophomore Zachary Singh echoed that sentiment.
“Cell phones are supposed to be off,” he said. “But generally they’re never off.”
Singh said he likes to listen to his iPod instead of just “twiddling my thumbs” until his classmates get done with a test or during lunch. “At least it keeps me quiet,” he said.
His mother, Jackie, said Zachary usually calls her if he leaves a book or his homework at home. “It’s just convenient,” she said.
She also said she can’t figure out the part in the policy about cameras not being allowed on campus.
“You can’t buy cell phones these days without built-in cameras,” she said. “So I don’t know how they’ll enforce this policy.”
Kipper said cameras would be confiscated if students are caught using them without authorization.
“We have a responsibility to teach them responsible use of technology,” he said. “They will be allowed to use it when appropriate.”
Students will be allowed to contact their parents in case of emergencies through public phones free of charge.
“But those would be for legitimate reasons,” Kipper said. “Not to call friends to fix a time to meet.”
Mountain Pointe senior Emma Burr scoffed at that notion.
“Sure I can use the school phones,” she said. “But you have six minutes in between classes. By the time you cross the school building to get in line to use a pay phone, you’d have to be back in class.”