Essex Middle School using new cellphone lock box policy

Published: Sep. 18, 2023 at 4:54 AM EDT
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ESSEX, Vt. (WCAX) - For many people, cellphones feel like an extension of their bodies. But at the same time, they can be distracting, especially for middle school students. Some schools have turned to lockbox policies to manage the use of cellphones in school.

Essex Middle School’s new cellphone policy is simple. Out of sight, out of mind.

When students walk in the door, they lock their phones up with their homeroom teacher and get them back at the end of the day.

Principal Kevin Briggs and Assistant Principal Matt Allen say they’ve set limitations for the past five years, and students could still keep them on their person, but they remained a distraction.

“I’ve seen over the years, a greater level of anxiety. I’ve seen a greater level of students just really struggling with making good decisions around their cellphones,” said Briggs.

The effect of cellphone use on tweens is still being researched and continues to evolve. Child adolescent psychiatrist Dr. Jeremiah Dickerson knows that phones can harm developing brains.

“It can be hard to find a balance for many of these kids. The worry is that it may replace some of those other things we know are important for positive development,” said Dickerson.

Dickerson says screen time can trigger a reward response in kids and could make it more difficult for them to get rewards from other things in real life, like social connections or engaging in academic activities.

Over at the Williston Central School, educators have utilized phone lockboxes since 2018. It’s also the home for AirPods and Apple watches.

“It’s a real distraction for students, worrying about what’s coming in, what messages are there, that fear of missing out is real for students, so having cellphones and access to them is a big temptation to ask them to manage as young people,” said Principal Jacqueline Parks.

Over the years, Parks says the policy has benefited teachers and students, who she says have become more accepting of it as the years progress. If students don’t want to use the lockbox, they have to keep their phone in their backpack.

“I think for teams that just make it part of their morning procedure, it goes super smoothly. Consistency is important, just having that as part of the morning. When it’s sort of matter of fact like that, it becomes a nonissue,” said Parks.

For both schools, parents are encouraged to call the main office if they need their child for something. Dr. Dickerson also recommends parents be good role models for cellphone use and set clear limits at home.