What follows are the three winning essays from the annual Della Hardman essay contest at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Students were asked to write opinion pieces about the use of digital devices at the high school. Winning essayists will be recognized at the annual Della Hardman Day event in Oak Bluffs on Saturday, July 28. The Gazette publishes the winning essays annually in advance of the daylong event which celebrates the arts and literature each year on the last Saturday in July.

By BRIAN HURLEY

It’s not uncommon to see an iPod or cell phone snatched away from a student walking the high school’s halls. When 47 per cent of teachers feel the policy does not follow the school’s values and the vast majority of students feel the same, a change is needed. The electronic device policy at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School is outdated and leaves little room for reasonable exceptions and considerations.

In today’s society, cell phones are the primary source of communication, including parent-to- student communication. Parents have the right to be in direct contact with their children. If a parent were to text his or her child an important message, for example notifying the student of a doctor’s appointment, a student’s response would take no more than 15 seconds and cause no disturbance to the rest of the class. During emergencies, quick communication is crucial to assure parents of their child’s safety. The handbook states that “students have access to both pay phones and other school phones in case a call must be made.” Hardly any students follow this rule and instead contact family on personal phones, which is rarely questioned by faculty. The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School does not operate like the rules describe, and we should have a handbook that is in accordance with the school’s atmosphere and routine.

Administrators and teachers should realize that high school students are approaching adulthood and treat them this way. Students are mature enough to use electronic devices while class is not being taught. The current high school policy states that “devices are to be turned off and should not be visible during the entire school, say from 7:40 a.m. to 2:05 p.m., including lunches and passing time between classes.” As young adults, students should be given the freedom to use their devices during lunch and passing time, while waiting for teachers to begin class, and also during study halls. These time periods would not distract from the learning environment and would allow students to learn how to make responsible decisions with their free time. If students choose to play games during their entire study hall, they will simply receive the consequences of more work at home or a lower grade. When adults go to work, their bosses do not try to control when and how they use their phones and computer; they only expect results. Students should begin to use the mentality that inappropriate use of technology leads to more than getting in trouble with a teacher; it could lead to poor grades and less opportunity for the future.

I would modify the electronic device policy to allow for use during any out-of-class times, but uphold the ban during instruction time unless permission from the teacher is granted. I would also give more power to the teachers to use their judgment and set unique sub-rules regarding devices, as the administration doesn’t need to micromanage each classroom. A technology class might allow students to use their cell phones for an educational purpose or a teacher could let students have a short break during class when they can check their phones. One of my teachers gives students a few minutes in the middle of class to get water, take out their phones, or just talk with friends, while clearly setting a rule of no cell phones when class is in sessio n. Students rarely go against the class rule because they understand it is fair and they will have an opportunity to make that text during the break. A teacher should also be able to set the punishment for the first couple of offenses without administration involvement, but when he or she feels it is necessary, report the student to the school.

The final policy could look similar to the following: Students will be free to use electronic devices when instructional time is not taking place; this includes passing time, lunch and study halls, as long as it does not cause a disturbance. Teachers will have discretion of device use inside the classroom; they may set rules, exceptions, and punishments as they see fit, but must be consistent. In the case of an emergency, the student may step out of the class to reach family, after notifying the teacher. This framework for the new policy is fair and corresponds with how the high school currently works. It is also worded more positively, instead of simply telling students what they are banned from doing. I suggest that the school consider my suggestions, as well as criticism, ideas and thoughts from other students.

By CONNOR J. SMITH

To date, the use of personal electronic devices has become increasingly popular in the high school. The advancement of technology has brought personal electronic use a long way, from a distraction to a necessary part of the classroom environment. Personal electronic devices can be used as calendars, research aids, cameras; the list goes on. For Apple users, there is an app for almost every possible classroom necessity. However, there seems to be a disconnect between policy- makers and the student body. Although the use of personal electronic devices would be an asset to teachers and students alike, there still are Draconian rules on the books. Although steps are being taken to allow certain uses of electronic devices in the classroom, a total overhaul of the system is necessary.

Electronic devices have a valuable place in our educational system. The ability to access the Internet from a student’s fingertips is an important advantage. The high school has subscribed to a program called EdLine, which allows students to view assignments and other materials teachers post. Google Docs, an online word-processing and presentation service, is also a tool that gets frequent use from the student body. Students would benefit from being able to use both of those assets on their PEDs. By allowing the student body to use their own devices, the school would also save money on having to buy new technology. Since most students are technologically savvy, they have the most up-to-date equipment available. The school would only have to buy electronics for those students that couldn’t provide for themselves. Students with Apple devices would be able to enjoy the thousands of educational apps available to devices like the iPhone and iPad.

As the rule stands now, electronic devices “should not be visible or used during instruction time without the permission of a school administrator.” From a practicality standpoint, that clause in the rule is absurd. In order to follow the rules, any time a student wanted to use a device, he or she would have to go through the front office. The administration should not have to be the de facto cell phone police, as it has more important responsibilities to attend to. As far as teachers using the devices for educational purposes, they are also supposed to go through the school administration “in order to avoid confusion as to which students are using an electronic device for an educational purpose and which are not.” The rules are a hindrance to allowing teachers to actually teach.

Legitimate concerns have been raised about the relationship between electronic devices and immoral or illegal activity, like cheating or bullying. While both are serious issues, there are already rules in place to prevent this kind of activity. There’s no use in creating confusion in the name of duplicity. If someone were to use an electronic device in the process of cheating, they’d be punished in accordance with existing rules. When people are caught cheating the old-fashioned way, they’re just plain cheating. They aren’t “misusing inter-student communication.”

The solution to the issue of misuse is simple. Instead of having the administration be the entity in charge of overseeing appropriate use, change the policy to one that allows teachers to run their classroom their way. If a teacher feels it is necessary to his or her lesson plan for electronics to be used, or doesn’t have a problem with their use, the teacher shouldn’t have to jump through rings of fire in order to have things his or her way. A classroom is a teacher’s domain and the legitimacy of the teacher is undermined when that environment is micromanaged.

In order to alleviate inappropriate classroom use, a possible solution would be one that would allow carte blanche use in areas of the school where there isn’t active learning going on. That would mean the cafeteria, the lunchroom, the hallways, study halls, or the library. A teacher isn’t actively teaching in one of those environments, so a student wouldn’t be handicapping him or herself if he or she were using their electronic device.

This “problem” could also be used as a teaching moment. Instead of outwardly penalizing students for inappropriate use, teach the proper times and ways to use the devices. Students could take away life lessons regarding proper and polite usage if they were taught those ways in school. It’s also about common sense. The system has been complicated to a point where nothing is being accomplished. In order to achieve an environment where results are being made in the areas of discipline, education and viability with the staff and student body, compromise is necessary. By letting individual teachers decide what the rules are, and giving students time where they can use their electronics without a penalty, the burden is taken off of the administration which allows it to be more effective in controlling more important school matters.

By DIANA DeOLIVEIRA

Bullying, cheating and other distractions have been in schools for many generations. Bullying has been face to face, cheating has been done with answers on erasers and scraps of papers, and one doesn’t need a phone to get distracted when he or she is too busy thinking about the weekend or watching the fly on the wall. Personal electronic devices are the same thing we have always had in schools, only now they’re a little more futuristic. I believe that banning electronics is not the answer with the advanced world we live in today. There are ways we can prevent students from cheating and bullying, but just like in the past when we didn’t have electronics, kids will make their own decisions and have to live with their own consequences.

Teachers should definitely be allowed to have their rules regarding personal electronic devices in their own classrooms, with their own students. Every teacher makes their own rules regarding personal electronic devices. Teachers, just like everybody else, have different ways of thinking and teaching. Some teachers get distracted more easily when teaching and others don’t. Teachers are the leaders and supervisors of their classrooms, so if they don’t want you on your phone while he or she is teaching, then the student should respect their rule. When the teacher is done teaching his or her lesson and leaves students to do their work, I don’t see the problem in having the student put in a pair of headphones while he or she works on the assignment. This being said, when a student is walking in the hallways by no means should teachers— whatever rule they use in their classroom—be allowed to take away any electronic from the student.

During study halls or free periods, there shouldn’t even be a question of whether or not students can use their electronics. We all have the choice of using our time wisely. If one doesn’t do their homework in school, then he or she will have to do it at home. It’s that simple. Most of the time I just see students listening to their music while doing their homework and I think that’s great. It keeps the study halls quieter. When students in college are on Facebook while the professor is speaking, then they are going to have a hard time passing that class. It is about making the right choices of when it seems like a good time to use electronics. Good choices lead to a good future. Staff should be trying to teach students the responsible use of these devices, rather than trying to enforce a ban on them. These devices are here to stay.

Because these devices are here to stay, we can consider all the wonderful apps for learning that are offered. Mental Case is a wonderful app by which students can create their own flash cards. It also offers one million cards on a huge range of topics. I’m going to nursing school in September and Mental Case has extraordinary anatomy cards to study from. IStudiez Pro is another useful app that helps students keep on task with all homework assignments. There are also translator and dictionary apps that are very useful to kids studying a different language. For my Spanish class I always use a dictionary on my phone when I don’t know what a word means. There are also apps for math class where hundreds of math formulas are listed. Many apps are useful for teachers too. Blackboard is a useful tool for teachers to communicate with their students as well as posting grades and assignments to private student accounts. We must take advantage of this technology, not try to throw it all away.

Personal electronic devices should be confiscated by staff when being used to cheat or when causing too much of a distraction to other students in the classroom. Kids who get caught cheating on a test should get a zero on that test. This is just like the past when kids didn’t have electronics and got caught cheating. The teacher would take the test and give it a zero. I’m sorry to say that if a teacher is not watching his or her students while they take a test, the teacher isn’t very smart, and it’s definitely not the electronics that are making cheating easier. It’s very obvious that when a student is looking under the desk or anywhere else suspicious, they are cheating. Once again, cell phones are like the scraps of paper of the future. It’s the same kind of cheating.

I don’t believe that banning electronics is the best policy in an academic setting. Using them as a useful tool to teach is the direction in which we should go. Teachers should be respected in their classrooms to whether or not they want cell phones out during their lecture. Students should make their own decisions as to whether or not they want to use their free time to play on their electronics, and when being caught cheating, a zero should be given. The personal electronic devices topic in schools has gone way too far. Not only are they not going anywhere but they also are going to get more advanced each and every day.