Earth Day, and cell phones in the classroom

Principal’s Page
By Jeff Reaburn
Next week our students and staff will be engaged in a number of activities to recognize Earth Day on April 22. Students are being encouraged to wear green and take part in some “eco” activities, including an Eco Trivia contest. They will also be encouraged to take part in a litterless lunch, producing little or no garbage and recycling their cans and bottles.
In collaboration with Exeter’s Communities in Bloom Association, Exeter Public School, and Precious Blood School, several of our classes will be involved in a community clean-up. As well, students in Ms. Migchel’s and Ms. McCowan’s classes will be participating in an Invasive Species Remediation project with the Ausable-Bayfield Conservation Authority, cleaning up the old Ausable River Channel. These activities are being organized by our Eco Schools team, which is headed by Ms. McCowan, Ms. Black, Kendra Windsor, and Amy Lightfoot. While Earth Day is only once a year, the goal of these activities is to encourage students and staff to reduce energy consumption, reduce the amount of waste we produce, and develop greater awareness of environmental issues all year long.
The Junior Optimists Club, on behalf of our Healthy Active Living Committee, will be holding a three-on-three basketball tournament on April 29 in support of Hoops for Heart. The tournament, which will be a round-robin format, will take place during Period Three (lunch period) and is open to community members as well as students. Pledge forms for this event can be picked up at the school, and the money raised will be donated to the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote about cell phone use at schools and suggested that trying to ban cell phones from schools was not very practical, given the number of students who have them, how easily they can be hidden, and the fact that they use them so much outside of school. There have been times, however, when I have thought that a total ban might be the easiest way to deal with the problem. I had such a moment last week.
A couple of individuals were allegedly trying to organize a fight at lunchtime in a community not too far away. Reports of the planned event began to circulate via text messaging during the morning, and some of our students, along with students from another school, decided to attend the event. The fact that they would have to skip school to take in the fight did not seem to deter them, and they allegedly made their travel plans by text messaging one another.
The police were informed of the plan, however, and were present at the appointed hour. The fight did not occur at that point in time, but a new time and location were arranged, again apparently by cell phone and text message, and an altercation did occur a little later in the afternoon. This activity caused a flurry of cell phone calls and text messages at school throughout the day, many of which were during class time, and caused major distraction and disruption at the school all day. The impact would certainly have been much less if students did not have cell phones at school; so, clearly, there is some merit in considering an all-out ban of cell phones.
However, the issue still comes down to teaching students appropriate behaviour: the cell phone, like the iPod, the digital camera, the computer, etc., is a tool, and we need to teach students when and how to use it – and how not to use it. While I am not convinced that it should be the school’s job to teach this, it’s obvious that cell phones are going to continue to be a part of students’ lives, and will therefore continue to have an impact on school life. Like any form of technology, the cell phone can be used for good purposes or bad, and unfortunately, last week we experienced the bad.