The art of the conversation consists of much more than words. When speaking face to face, the non-verbal expressions of body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions convey as much, if not more, information than the words themselves. Learning to interpret these non-verbal cues is what makes us human. Learning to do this well is the foundation for conflict resolution, developing positive relationships, future success, and forming a positive community. Unfortunately, the digital era, with all of its benefits, often impedes our kids’ growth into healthy, mature adults and community members because it allows young people to communicate behind a screen instead of in person.
Here in our middle school, we understand the importance of personal interactions and have consciously incorporated them into our daily routine. In-class group work, Access, clubs, recess, and lunch all facilitate growth through communication. Fostering our students’ ability to communicate is one of the factors that motivated us to remove mobile phones from our presence during the school day. It has been 2 1/2 years since we implemented this policy, and I wanted to revisit the origin of the policy for those who are new to our school.
After watching “Screenagers” in 2017, researching the negative effects of mobile phones on our students’ health and productivity, and bearing witness to phone-based conflicts arising in our school, I implemented a “no phone” policy in our middle school with the support of our board of directors. After 2 1/2 years, I can confidently say the policy has had a positive effect on achievement, conflict, and overall culture. Here is what I wrote at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year (in italics):
“As we have learned from our viewing of “Screenagers” last Spring, and through academic research over the past 5 years, the presence of cell phones can be detrimental in many facets. The following are just a few:
These are just a few examples of the negative impact of cell phones on our school culture and climate. I could list more, but the point remains: removal of phones will greatly improve our middle school environment by reducing conflict, stress, and the cognitive interruptions that come with their presence. Please join me in supporting PRA and our students. Also, please note that students with “technology” in their 504 plans or IEPs will still be allowed access to their phones as described in their accommodations.”
These words still apply today. Most importantly, removing phones in middle school has freed our kids to have conversations with each other, and this will yield a benefit to last a lifetime.
Thank you for your support and consideration.
February 5, 2020
January 30, 2020
We’re in the midst of the “dog days” of the year, that big stretch of school between our return from Winter Break and the end of March when Spring Break arrives just in time to revive our weary kids after three months of hard work. Inevitably, upon the realization that the road ahead is long, our middle schoolers often become anxious, which can manifest in the form of extra chatter in class, an increase in tardies, or the need to test the boundaries of our school expectations.
As a staff, we know this is the time of year to go above and beyond in supporting our kids with positive validations, while also staying firm on our school-wide expectations. Regarding the former, stay tuned for some special events we’re planning that will be fun community-builders to help remind us all why we love PRA. On the latter, we’re going to spend some time reviewing our longstanding expectations with our students that we’ve established in the interests of productivity and respect. This week, our topic is focused on “tardies”.
First, I’d like to acknowledge the tragic news from our district as of late and to let you know what we’re doing in middle school this week to address the situation. The middle school years can be difficult for our children, as physiological and psychological changes in the pre-teen years can wreak havoc on their emotional well being. Our kids need to know that they are loved and to be equipped with the tools to cope with difficult situations. One of my proudest boasts about our accomplishments at PRA is that we know your children's names, strengths, and needs. Not only is this a best practice as a teacher, but knowing and interacting with our students is why we do what we do. In addition to establishing positive relationships with our kids, we use our Access class to help build character and to instill the skills our kids will need to thrive as adults. This week in our 8th Grade Access classes (other grades to follow), Dr. Casado is going to speak with our students about coping strategies and available resources for them in times of need. Please speak with your kids on Thursday night about what they learned as a starting point for a positive family conversation.
The negative correlation between school absences and academic success is well established. But did you know the same negative correlation exists with tardies? It’s true - chronic tardiness begets reduced success in academics. Just as importantly, tardiness negatively affects learning for all of the students in class. Studies show that students in classes that experience kids walking in after the bell also show reduced academic performance. In addition, tardiness has a negative impact on school-wide culture. In short, tardiness negatively impacts the culprit, the class as a whole, and school-wide culture.
Unfortunately, we have seen an increase in tardiness this semester, and I’d like to articulate our policy and our next steps in the Middle School. Earlier this year we implemented a “Friday Afternoon Club” at PRA in place of academic recovery to address chronic tardiness. We started this policy in high school in October, and consciously waited until the second semester to implement it in the Middle School. Our “FAC” works as follows:
Our tardy policy is designed to help our students get prepared for high school and beyond. In life, being late has consequences, and it’s part of our accountability goal to help our kids understand the importance of living up to their commitments to the calendar. We ask for your support and affirmation with your students to help ensure that we have timely and productive classrooms at PRA.
Thank you for the privilege of working with your kids. It is an honor we don’t take lightly.
Steve Thygesen, Principal
January 23, 2020 Update