Students detox from cellphone use

English teacher Kelsey Francis holds a “detox box” with stuff to do for students who relinquished their cellphones for a day. (Enterprise photo — Glynis Hart)

SARANAC LAKE — Two-thirds to three-quarters of the students at the Saranac Lake High School unplugged from their cellphones for the school day Friday, causing the ambient noise level in classrooms, hallways and study halls to rise.

Middle school students also participated in the unplugging project.

At the beginning of the day, high school students who “unplugged” put their cellphones in safekeeping with school administrators. Their names, as well as the names of students who were already unplugged because they don’t have cellphones, were entered in raffle drawings for prizes donated by local businesses.

The point of the day, however, wasn’t the prizes, but to see what they found out about themselves when their phones were off.

“It was pretty cool,” said Colden Celeste. “Honestly, mostly I didn’t know what time it was. Time went faster. It was refreshing.”

Sarah Shipman, a senior, said she didn’t miss it that much. “Mainly I use it for music. It helps me focus when I paint.”

Shipman said a lot more people talked than usual.

Claire Fletcher concurred: “I didn’t actually mind. I felt like without it I talked to my friends more. I liked that I had to focus.”

Fletcher said she even enjoyed just not having the phone on the desk.

“The classrooms were a lot louder,” said Riley Fisher.

David Warner said he thought the students did a lot more work. “I feel like people were scared at first. What if a situation happened and they didn’t know how to deal with it? But then, they got used to it.”

“I haven’t had a phone for three weeks,” said Rachel Villani, smiling.

Students who didn’t turn their phones in had various reasons. One young man said he just didn’t feel it was worth it; another said he had taken a cybersecurity pledge to keep his information safe, which meant not leaving it with anyone.

Teachers said many kids checked first to see if their friends were turning in their phones, because if their friends couldn’t text them there was no point having phones. Thirty-five teachers and 222 students spent the day without their cellphones.

English teacher Kelsey Francis said, “Where I particularly noticed it was in the study halls, where kids are typically zoning out on their phones. Every time I went by the study hall, the kids were overwhelmingly talking or playing games.”

Francis supplied “detox boxes” with games, drawing materials, lists of conversation starters and other fun stuff to help students manage their cellphone-free day.

Participation was led by the senior class. Seventy-two percent of seniors met the challenge, 63 percent of 11th graders; 61 percent of 10th graders and 74 percent of ninth-graders. Girls unplugged more than boys: 68 percent versus 54 percent.

“We had a great response,” said Principal Josh Dann. Dann also went without his cellphone for the day, which he found thought-provoking.

“There were frequent times today I needed it and I didn’t have it,” said Dann. For instance, he wanted to share the successful event on the school’s Facebook page. “I’ll just have to do it tomorrow,” he said with a smile.

“It’s about retraining our habits to think about what’s really important,” said Dann.

So far, the high school has no official policy on cellphone use by students. Teachers make the rules for their own classrooms. Asked whether the schools are looking to set a policy, Dann said the plan is to debrief the students on Monday.

“As adults, we’re looking to have the kids come to some kind of conclusion on this,” said Dann.