Talon News - Good Local News

By Jacque Ritchie



August 4, 2017

Jacque Ritchie

Jessica Sledzinski, Principal at Koogler Middle School, in her office, preparing for the New Year

There are changes coming to Koogler Middle School this year. Sort of. If you are a mid-school student who is lucky enough to own a cell phone, prepare for changes. If you are a parent, teacher or administrator of a mid-school tween, it's happy dance time. Cell phones will no longer be allowed at KMS (jazz hands). Okay here's the 'sort of' part: According to Principal Jessica Sledzinski, "Cell phones are not allowed in the classroom. Cell phones are not allowed during the school day." Sledzinski says, students may have cell phones, but they must be turned off and in their backpacks which are stored in their lockers (backpacks are also not allowed in class). Okay, so yes, cell phones are allowed, but they must be turned off even before school, during homeroom and (OMG) during lunch.

Tween-age angst can be ugly, very ugly. After nearly 20 years as an educator and 3 years at the helm of Koogler, Sledzinski knows this all too well, "This is not a new thing, students did not have them (cell phones) on during lunch last year, or in class either," Sledzinski said. "The only thing that is different this year, is that they don't need them before school." Sledzinski explains, "What was happening was last year, before school a lot of kids were using them to listen to music that was not always appropriate. They may have been taking pictures that were not in the best interest of other children, taking videos of things they shouldn't have been. We're just saying cell phones don't belong at school." Sledzinski adds, "It's more about what's in the best interest of keeping their focus on education and not on social media." To support her argument Sledzinski points to an article published in Psychology Today written by Melanie Hempe, RN, founder of Families Managing Media. In the article (Why Social Media is Not Smart for Middle School Kids) Hempe contends: "Because the midbrain is reorganizing itself and risk-taking is high and impulse control is low, I can't imagine a worse time in a child's life to have access to social media than middle school." Hempe sites physiological effects of social media on the adolescent brain. Hempe argues that early use of social media may set up kids for addictive behaviors later in life.

Sledzinski says, "There is not necessarily any data that points to (cell phone exclusion) and test scores, however there is a correlation to behavior and assessment results. When we have a kid who's struggling and upset about something that was posted on social media, he's not going to be focused on education. So that's what we are really trying to do, is focus on instruction."

Sledzinski said that she and members of her Instructional Leadership Team updated the cell phone policy and it has been generally well received by the Parent Teacher Organization and parents at large.

As for the students, Sledzinski said, "Hey, we've had some negativity from kids and we've had some positivity from kids too." Sledzinski concedes that when she took her position at Koogler the cell phone use rule were more relaxed, and that putting that genie back in the bottle has been a challenge, "It's really hard to do that and we've been trying to do it for two years now." Signs are posted all over campus and Sledzinski said, "We make sure that the kids are aware of what's in the handbook regarding cell phones."

At Koogler there is a three strike policy. First offense, phone is gone until the end of the day. Second offense, student is 'Sledzinskid' and must go to principals' office to get their phone back. (In my day, this was akin to medieval torture). Third offense (horror of horrors), "We call their folks."

Sledzinski contends that cell phone related disciplinary incidents are rare. She also stressed that students/parents can always contact each other via the office phones, "We have lots of phones here that work really well."

In the interest of being 'fair and balanced' the TALON recently spoke to two freshman students enrolled in Aztec High School. Both students are Koogler alumni and, while shy about giving their names, both young men were all about expressing their opinions on the cell phone policy. "The kids are gonna hate it," they agreed. While both students said they thought that using a cell phone during class was "disrespectful" to instructors and fellow students, they did not agree with restrictive out-of-class cell phone rules.

"It's kind of absurd and outdated" said a student we'll call 'T'. "Sometimes you need it (cell phone) to get a hold of your parents for after school activities. T said, "I think at lunch time and at the beginning of the day they should allow it."

When asked what he would do if a teacher attempted to take his phone away student 'E' remarked, "I'd say, 'Hell no! That ain't yer property!" Sledzinski contends the new rule is not about taking anything away, it's actually about allowing the development of a young person's social skills through personal interaction. She said that what she is concerned with is that, with the advent of the of the cell phone social media revolution, kids were missing out on the essential one-on-one exchange of ideas that is the essence of the educational experience, "With social media, It's like people are alone, together."


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