Haldane asks high schoolers to park their phones

As it turns out, algebra is easier when you’re not scrolling the internet or texting friends during class.

That’s the conclusion of teachers and students at Haldane High School this fall as they adjust to a new cellphone rule.

Under the policy, students must deposit their cellphones into a repurposed shoe organizer — the “No-Cell Motel” — when they enter a classroom. They can retrieve their phones after the bell.

“It’s been wonderful,” said Christian Hoolan, who teaches calculus and algebra. “When I’m modeling problems, the kids are engaged. I don’t have to worry about kids looking at Snapchat or Instagram.”

Students largely seem OK with the policy. “It’s a big improvement,” said senior Ruby Poses, the student body president. “Last year when we were talking about something that I wasn’t really interested in, it was an opportunity to text my mom or friends. Now, when we’re having class discussions, everyone’s engaged.”

Phone Motel
Seniors Gabe Lunin-Pack and Ruby Poses said most students have accepted storing their phones during class. (Photo by J. Asher)

Some students complained the first few days, said Gabe Lunin-Pack, the senior class president. But he said most adjusted quickly. “Once I got used to it, I realized that I’m doing a lot more work in class,” Lunin-Pack said.

Haldane implemented the policy because teachers said they were having difficulty with students who refused to put away their cellphones during class, said Principal Julia Sniffen. The common response was that “it’s my personal property,” she said.

It became such a problem that the faculty read and discussed Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention — and How to Think Deeply Again, by Johann Hari. The book explores how technology has undermined the ability to concentrate.

When she proposed the No-Cell Motel,  “not one staff member said it was a bad idea,” Sniffen said.

Nationally, more than 75 percent of schools ban cellphones except for academic work, according to a 2020 survey by the National Center for Education Statistics. A 2017 study by researchers at Rutgers University concluded that non-academic cellphone use during class reduces long-term retention of the material being presented, which leads to lower exam scores.

Julia Sniffen with No Cell Motel
Haldane High Principal Julia Sniffen says teachers had no objections to the idea of a No-Cell Motel. (Photo by J. Asher)

Haldane isn’t the only school with a new policy. The Garrison School this year began requiring middle-school students to leave phones in their lockers during class, said Carl Albano, the superintendent. Albano said that faculty decided to ban phones from classrooms because students were increasingly distracted. “It’s hard for a child to resist not checking his phone,” Albano said.

In Beacon, Superintendent Matt Landahl said this week that he intends to propose a more detailed cellphone policy for the 2024-25 school year. The current student code of conduct allows confiscation of phones when their use violates school policies.

At O’Neill High School, which many Garrison School graduates attend, students are allowed to use their cellphones in class only with the the teacher’s permission.

Several local private schools have already banned cellphones during class. “Our cellphone policy is simple: Students are not allowed to use cellphones or other smart devices at school, including tablets and smartwatches,” said Maria Stein-Marrison, director of the Manitou School in Philipstown, which runs through the eighth grade.

Similarly, Hudson Hills Academy in Beacon, which also runs through eighth grade, banned cellphones in class several years ago, said Asma Siddiqui, the director. Although middle-school students are allowed to use phones at recess, “we think kids these days spend too much time on devices,” she said.

Behind The Story

Type: News

News: Based on facts, either observed and verified directly by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Joey Asher is a freelance writer and former reporter for The Journal News.

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