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Horry County school relaxing cellphone policy to help students and teachers

Conway High School principal says they're allowing students to use their cell phones more during school this year (Credit:Robert Catanese)
Conway High School principal says they're allowing students to use their cell phones more during school this year (Credit:Robert Catanese)
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As technology progresses, the age of people getting access to it gets younger and younger. That means schools are having to figure out how to regulate them while maintaining integrity in the classrooms.

In recent years, most schools chose to ban them from school during learning hours. But one Horry County school has made a change to the district's policy. The principal of Conway High School says they're allowing students more access to their phones.

“Young people teenagers, in particular, are very much so dependent in relying on these devices, their cellphones,” said Lee James, principal at Conway High School. “It is their social world. It is their entertainment. It’s how they connect with people. It’s how they seek out information.”

Spend just a few minutes talking to any teenager and it won’t take long to see just how much cellphones influence their lives.

Chloe Cribb, a senior at CHS is no stranger to digital devices.

“There are some people that actually believe their phone is an organ of their body that they could not function without,” said Cribb.

Cribb said she got her first cellphone when she was in second grade. Her generation is known as "Gen Z." It’s the first one to be considered true "digital natives." That means they’ve grown up with technology, influencing just about everything in their day-to-day lives.

A Snapchat survey shows on average they spend more than four hours a day on their phones, which is longer than any other generation. That’s why Principal James realized they needed to update the district’s nearly 10-year-old cellphone policy.

“We were looking at our discipline incidents and how we can reduce those. We noticed there were a large number of students who were receiving cellphone violations,” said James.

The district’s policy states:

“Cell Phones, Pagers, and Other Electronic Devices
Students may not use cell phones, IPods, cameras, handheld games, or other electronic devices to interfere with instruction or school activities, or send inappropriate messages, recordings, broadcasts, or images. All of the above mentioned equipment must be turned off and be out of sight while at school. The use of these devices is restricted to before and after school hours. Principals may waive portions of the above restrictions with appropriate district administrator approval. However, devices are never to be used in any area in which an individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy including, but not limited to, restrooms, locker rooms, and showers. In the event of a violation, school personnel are authorized to take the device from the student but will return the device to the parent/guardian. The school or District assumes no responsibility for any damaged, lost, or stolen devices. Adopted: 7-1-11; 7-1-14.”

James said keeping cellphones out of students' hands was creating a bigger problem for teachers. Since the policy allows principals to make changes, with the district's approval, James said they moved forward with teacher recommendations to do that.

“Cellphones were creating a point of contention between them and their students. It was actually interfering with their ability to form positive relationships,” said James.

He said their answer: let students use them more during school. Conway High School students can now use their electronic devices in between classes. Almost every student has earbuds plugged in, wired to their ears and cellphones gripped in their phones. However, they still must be out of sight during class.

“We have half as many cellphone violations today as we did last year,” said James. “I knew they would be excited about it. I didn’t know that parents would cheer a change of a cellphone policy.”

He said when they announced the new policy in the beginning of the school year, he instantly saw support from the school community. He said students were getting sent home from school for violating the old policy and it was frustrating parents. Students are also noticing a positive change in the school.

“It definitely has been able to allow teachers to cut back and be more strict in the classroom because we are giving you this time to have it in the hallways, to have it during lunches, to have it during your free time. So whenever you step into the classroom, it’s time for work and it allows teachers to be a little bit more strict on that,” said Cribb.

James said the curriculum is also changing these days since students are constantly sifting their phones for answers. He said students today are learning and retaining information in the classroom differently than other generations.

“The emphasis is no longer on being able to recall information or being able to regurgitate facts from the classroom. The shift is now on how students apply that information-- can they use that information to justify, to explain, to create based on the facts they’ve learned in the classroom,” explained James. “With that shift, googling answers on the internet is much more difficult”

He said students tend to underestimate the power of having everything at their fingertips, and it’s up to school officials to guide this generation through the digital world.

“What we try to do is teach them how to use it responsibly. How to understand that even though you have this device, academic integrity is still very important and very valuable in your overall growth. We try to teach them self awareness, self-management, decision-making skills, relationship skills,” said James.

All new lessons for both students and teachers as they all adjust to the "new normal" of school.

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The Horry County Schools district spokesperson said other school shave modified the cellphone policy over the years. Some have now allowed students to use them during lunch. Schools are also allowed to layout different punishments for violations once approved by the district.

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