When I was in high school, there was a rule that students were not allowed to have cell phones visible during the day and yes - that included lunch. Our assistant principals would walk through the cafeteria and confiscate phones if they saw a student using it. This led to a lot of disagreements and frustrated students who would argue back and have to wait until the end of the day, if not longer, to get their phones back. I'm sure a lot of these incidents escalated and resulted in students receiving write ups for being "defiant" or "disrespectful." At the time, almost 13 years ago now, a lot of students still used flip phones and the Motorola Razor Edge was popular.
Students would complain about the policy and express how unfair they thought this rule was, with some even saying, "They better not take my phone. They don't pay my phone bill." One time, one of our Assistant Principal's almost took my phone away when I looked at it during lunch. I remember seeing her hand appear out of the corner of my eye and feeling defensive. I must have said something, in a respectful way, about me not actually using it or making sure it was on silent mode, because she let me keep it.During my sophomore year, we received a new principal who was committed to supporting students and finding ways to make improvements throughout the school. He formed a "Principal's Advisory Council" for student representatives to hold regular meetings with him and discuss how to make our school experience better. I was fortunate to be a part of the council, and one of the first issues that we raised was the policy of not being allowed to have our phones during lunch. We shared why it seemed unfair, how lunch was an unstructured time where we socialized, how other schools allowed students to use their phones at lunch and the negative experiences others faced with having their phones taken away. A few weeks later, our school held a pep rally before a big football game on a Friday. I had to leave school early that day and missed the event. When I returned the following Monday and went to lunch, I heard students talking about the big announcement from Friday as they held their phones out. I asked someone what happened and they shared that the principal announced during the pep rally that we were now allowed to have our phones out at lunch. This was one of the first times where I witnessed how a group of young people can come together and work through the appropriate channels to bring about a positive change that improves the quality of life for others. To this day, that story still motivates and encourages me not to settle and to continue to challenge policies that are outdated, punitive, or seemingly unnecessary for students. In a full circle manner, it also impacts some of my most recent work as a school administrator involving fostering a student-centered environment, moving towards more restorative approaches, decreasing student disciplinary referrals and most importantly, listening to the needs, concerns, and suggestions of students. Schools must remember to keep the voices of their students at the forefront of discussions around policies, improvements, and decisions that will ultimately impact...students.Keep building!