Can students (and teachers) stay off their phones and computers for an entire school day? Will life as we know it come to an end? Lyman High leaders decided to find out.
Lyman High School was prepared.
To get conversations going, students wrote out potential topics on Post-it Notes and stuck them to their foreheads. The badminton net was set up outside in the school’s courtyard with equipment at the ready, as were cornhole boards and bean bags.
It was Disconnect to Reconnect Day at Lyman, in which students and staff were encouraged to voluntarily forgo the use of smartphones and computers to make way for more genuine connection and collaboration. With today’s teenagers and tech devices going together like peanut butter and jelly, it’s no small feat.
The school has committed to promote five of these Disconnect to Reconnect Days this school year, says principal Michael J. Rice. The most recent day in November was the second in the series. For an entire school day, teens were challenged to avoid checking screens, sending texts, and listening to music on their mobile devices. Teachers agreed to do the same and stay off their computers as much as their duties would allow. To the surprise of everyone involved, the world continued to turn. In fact, most of the students and staff had fun.
During the inaugural Disconnect to Reconnect Day, a maze was built for students to lead each other through as a team-building exercise – a bonding practice that far surpasses the impact of texting an emoji to a friend during third period.
So far, the special days have gotten rave reviews, though the adjustment proved to be easier for some than others.
Assistant principal Cathy Loyd, for example, didn’t have too much trepidation about the day. She’s never been particularly hooked on technology and isn’t even on social media. There were, of course, some school-operational tasks that required computer use. But Cathy and Michael tried to set a good example. At one point, they moved a work conversation from their mobile phones to the good old-fashioned office phones on their desks to stay within the Disconnect to Reconnect framework as much as possible.
Senior Alex Faison, on the other hand, is a frequent texter, and many of those texts are related to his internship at a local property-management company. During Disconnect to Reconnect Day, Alex admitted to many moments in which he instinctively reached for his phone to check his messages or catch up on YouTube.
“I guess I’m pretty addicted,” he says with a shrug.
Fellow 12th grader Tyler Heintzen, meanwhile, often forgot that it was Disconnect to Reconnect Day. It was just another day at school for him. Tyler says he didn’t get his first phone until the eighth grade, likely after many other kids had theirs, so tech addiction hadn’t really set in.
“I call or text, but not much,” says Tyler. “I don’t like playing video games on the phone. I prefer my home computer for gaming.”
Taking it a step further, Lieutenant Colonel Dan Clark, Lyman’s senior Army JROTC instructor is the opposite of device dependent. His military career kept him tethered to a number of gadgets to track those under his command. In retirement, Lt. Col. Clark felt free when he was able to let those devices go, so Disconnect to Reconnect Day was a non-event. He owns a cell phone only for emergencies and usually leaves it in his car, anyway.
But assistant principal Vanessa Moosavifazel likes her phone. A lot. The school’s Disconnect to Reconnect Days have required more than a little adjustment.
“The first time, I had anxiety leading up to the day,” Vanessa laughs. “There was not that sense of dread this time. This was not as bad.”
Vanessa remembers celebrating the fact that she made it through the first day without electronics, feeling accomplished.
“It was a great opportunity to talk to the kids,” she says.
Lyman senior Kaitlyn Bowman typically uses her smartphone a lot during the school day, but it’s primarily to stay on top of her schoolwork.
Disconnect to Reconnect Day is a challenge for Kaitlyn, but not because she feels disconnected from her friends. Instead, she missed her phone’s calculator, dictionary, and its access to the district’s Skyward network and her own stash of important files in the cloud.
“I just had to figure out another way,” Kaitlyn says.
In fact, Kaitlyn reports it’s much harder to avoid technology use at home, where there are no other students around to talk to in person.
Some of Kaitlyn’s teachers held Disconnect to Reconnect Day classes outdoors, which she liked. And she saw the benefits of going tech-free, even if it was only temporary.
“Especially in classes, I was more focused on work,” Kaitlyn says of the no-tech days. “It was more about being in the moment and being more engaged.”
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