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Chartiers Valley, Carlynton weigh pros, cons of phones in classrooms

| Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017, 1:51 a.m.

As students in Alan Welding's rhetoric class at Chartiers Valley High School debate a hot topic, some rely on notecards, while others take out their phones and read their notes from mobile devices.

After the debate, students again take out their phones and go online to vote for which of their classmates they think won the debate.

“That way, they're not influencing each other,” Welding said.

Teachers in the Chartiers Valley and Carlynton school districts are embracing evolving technology, while administrators and teachers alike are working to ensure students are good “digital citizens” and mobile device use in the schools doesn't get out of hand.

With mobile phones in the majority of their students' hands, school leaders say they've adapted policies, and teachers are utilizing the devices to enhance education.

“You can fight it, or you can embrace it,” Welding said. “Fighting it is like banging your head against the wall.”

At Chartiers Valley High School, students are allowed to have their phones in the school and hallways, and each teacher determines if the mobile devices are allowed to be used in the classroom, said Welding, the school's library media specialist and rhetoric teacher.

If a phone rings in his classes, students know they can take a call in the hallway if it's important — like a parent calling or a job, Welding said.

“I let them know, ‘I'll respect you if you respect me,'” he said. “I just tell them, ‘be quick, let me know,' and they do that. Every kid is really good with it.”

Welding said because he teaches mostly high school seniors, he understands they have jobs and sometimes there is an important call they have to take. But he has an understanding with the students, and he says they haven't abused it.

Other teachers at Chartiers Valley bring students into the library and they use their phones for video and research, even though every student in the school has a laptop with a one-to-one program. Sometimes students prefer the smaller handheld screen, Welding said.

The school has several Google Cardboard virtual reality headsets students can put their phones inside.

“Teachers tell me, ‘we want to go see the pyramids,' or go see Spain, and we go,” he said. The students download an app on their phones, put them in the cardboard device and away they go.

At Carlynton Junior/Senior High School, a Spanish teacher conducts mystery Skype sessions with other schools across the world. Students pull out their cellphones and use the facts they're given to try to determine what country and city the students they're talking to are from, said Rachel Gattuso, assistant principal.

Carlynton School District revised its policies three or four years ago and implemented a “bring your own device” policy, Gattuso said.

“The kids had access to them no matter what, and it's not going away,” she said. “It was decided, ‘let's allow them to have their phones and teach them how to appropriately use them.'”

Each teacher makes the decision how to handle phones in the classroom. Some do not allow them to be used at all. Others have docking stations students place their phones on as they enter the classroom and the teacher allows them to use the phone once the lesson is finished.

“We do have a lot of kids that just use it for music,” Gattuso said.

Once they've finished their lesson and they're working on something individually, some teachers let them listen to their music while they work, she said.

Students are permitted to use their phones between classes for texting, but not taking calls in the hallways. However, if they have headphones in, they must keep one earbud in and one out so they're aware of their surroundings.

About half the students in the hallways between periods are using their phones in some fashion, Gattuso said.

In recent weeks, the school hosted an event for parents, called “Screenagers,” to talk about technology and how it's different today than when they were growing up.

“It was really teaching parents to have these conversations with their kids about what they're doing on their phones,” Gattuso said.

The hardest part for the school to deal with has been apps and social media. Students aren't allowed to use apps, like Snapchat, in the school, Gattuso said.

“When I have a kid who comes down to my office, it's usually because they keep checking their phone,” Gattuso said. “What we do is we come up with a plan for how to handle that. I tell them to put it in their bag when they enter the classroom. If it's in your bag, you're less likely to look at it and keep checking it…. We're trying to help them make good decisions.”

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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