School challenges students to unplug

SARANAC LAKE — The National Day of Unplugging falls on March 9 and 10 this year, and Saranac Lake High School teachers are challenging their students to unplug.

When the students arrive at school Friday morning, they’ll be invited to see if they can live without their cellphones for one day. Before homeroom starts, they can put their phones into a basket where the phones, labeled with their names, will be locked into a display case for the school day.

The National Day of Unplugging began in 2010 as a project of The Sabbath Manifesto, a creative project aimed at encouraging people to take a break from technology and spend time connecting with loved ones, getting outside, finding silence and other old-fashioned ways to spend time. Anyone can go to the National Day of Unplugging website and sign the pledge to unplug.

Students who accept the challenge will be entered to win gift cards from local businesses, but the main thing is to find out if they can do it.

English teacher Kelsey Francis said she’s waiting to see how the students handle it. Her students are ambivalent about the constant need to check their phones.

“It’s been a funny reaction,” said Francis. “My own students are telling me how stressed they are managing the phone. It’s hard for me to truly know what’s going on in their minds.”

Cellphones at school are supposed to be put away during class, but “the current rules are really left up to the discretion of the teacher,” said Francis. Teachers may need students to look something up online, and their phones are the way to do it.

“It’s gotten so blurry and muddy the kids can’t sit through a class without checking their phones,” said Francis.

The Day of Unplugging will offer students the advantage that their friends are unplugging, too. But what about their families?

“We’re telling them, ‘Make sure you tell your parents what’s going on,'” said Francis. “Even the parents are feeding into this. Students will tell me, ‘I just have to reply to my parents,’ in class. They’re at school, their parents know they’re at school, and yet they expect an instant reply.”

“I honestly think the adult world has a hard time managing this, as well. But the students are the first generation growing up with this.î

Francis said all the teachers are dealing with the students’ divided attention, and the effect the ubiquitous phones are having on their academic performance as well as their social lives.

“As high school teachers, we see it as a problem,” she said. “It’s so in our faces that we’re all addressing it.”

March 9 will be an interesting experiment in how the students rise to the challenge, said Francis. “It’s voluntary. I have no idea what kind of participation we’re going to get,” she said.

“I’ve been surprised in conversations with my students, how aware they are of their own addiction. A lot of the response I’m hearing is, ‘I don’t know if I can do it.'”