Local students disconnect devices for National Day of Unplugging

Photo by Maria Valiente
Shelburne Community School students posted their reasons to unplug on a window instead of digitally.

By SCOOTER MACMILLAN and MARIA VALIENTE

Local schools participated in a district-wide digital detox last Friday in different ways, replicating the National Day of Unplugging on March 1.

Though not mandatory, at Shelburne Community School many staff members and students unplugged, stashing away their laptops, phones, and other devices. For some, eliminating technology from their routine proved to be a challenge, if not entirely impossible.

While Champlain Valley Union High School students did not unplug for National Day of Unplugging, they celebrated a school-wide weekend of consciously unplugging – or plugging – to digital devices.

The National Day of Unplugging is an annual 24-hour period, from sundown to sundown, where participants are encouraged to put away their phones, laptops, tablets, video game consoles, and other electronics. Now in its tenth year, the project is an outgrowth of the Sabbath Manifesto created by Reboot, a nonprofit organization inspired by Jewish rituals and traditions. The Manifesto outlines 10 principles for those interested in honoring the proverbial seventh day of rest. Number one on their list: avoid technology.

Unplugged at SCS

On Tuesday, March 5, Shelburne Community School Digital Learning Leader Tim O’Leary sent out a communication to all teachers inviting them to join in on the tech cleanse on March 15, but to also build a dialogue with their students around the value of technology in its absence.

“There are exceptional examples of how technology is infused into the classroom for learning. Let’s recognize and appreciate that as well,” the memo read.

For school librarian Kari Ahern, these words rang true.

“In the school library, 95 percent of what we do is using information technology to either find information or produce information, so this day was a bit of a struggle,” Ahern laughed. “How do I find a book on the shelf? Our catalogs are all automated.”

Still, the library staff did their best to keep their promise. Friday’s original lesson plan for the elementary classes, which had the students filling out Google forms on their iPads to vote for their favorite nominee for the Red Clover Book Award, was saved for a future date. Instead, Ahern chose a story to share with the children that embodied the spirit of stepping away from screens.

“Today, I’m reading a book called ‘TEK.’ It’s about a cave boy who won’t give up his phone, or his tablet, or his Gamebox, and so he misses out on everything in the world,” Ahern said.

When it came to checking out books, however, the library had no choice but to continue to use their computers to track which student borrowed which title when, the old-school system of sign-out cards left behind long ago, along with VCRs and busy signals.

For the youngest of the students, business went on as usual, as the use of electronics is minimal at this point in their education. The teachers still engaged in conversations with their classes, letting them share their thoughts on why taking a break from devices is a good idea. A bulletin board in the kindergarten wing showcased a dozen or so “I Unplug To…” posters, with answers such as “help my eyes!,” “not waste electricity,” and “not waste batteries” filling in the blanks.

Over in grade 4 where Chromebooks are used often throughout the day, Sally Stevens’ class was enthusiastically on board, skipping their usual morning typing practice and shifting to paper for the rest of their activities. Their window was also decorated with the unplug-to sheets, which the kids filled out themselves.

While Stevens was in full support of the event and hopes that SCS will continue to take part in the future, she also feels that computers can be used in a healthy, educational way. In an upcoming class project, kids will be assigned a U.S. state and, using green-screen technology, they will make tourist-attraction videos. This is one example of how technology can enhance the learning experience, she said.

Meanwhile, all of the middle school students we talked to owned cellphones, but they were game to do away with them — at least during school hours. Some said they would try to unplug. Nevertheless, the tweens were unanimous: they thought the Day of National Unplugging was a great idea.

“I think that [the middle schoolers] totally get it. It’s a good twist on the day,” Ahern said. “We had a bunch of middle school kids getting books this morning, which is nothing new, but I could see that there was a different energy today, so I’m happy that they are celebrating the day.”

CVU goes mostly acoustic

CVU Digital Learning Leader Charlie MacFadyen handed out paper report cards on Friday for students to self-grade themselves for the weekend of March 16-17.

The students were asked to keep records of when they turned on their cell phones, tablets, Chromebooks or other Google-ish gadgets and return the results on Monday.

MacFadyen said that most of the students found it useful to write about their experiences trying to be more conscious when they plugged in rather than just automatically doing it.

“We don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater,” MacFadyne said.

Ella Bohmann is a CVU sophomore who said that she felt the weekend helped her be more self-aware. She found that she reduced her digital use from an average of four hours a day to three hours.

“I had a lot of reading and I got a lot done,” said Bohmann. “I was more productive.”

Senior Nicole Eaton said that the scorecard helped a lot and that she reduced her digital surfing from about five hours a day to four.

“You hear so much about the damage that a phone can do to young people,” said Eaton. 

She said that the important thing for her was to stay away from social media and that during the weekend she found herself choosing to talk to friends or go for a run instead of plugging in.

“It’s not about forgetting your phone. It’s about thinking about what you could be doing a little deeper and interacting with the real world,” said Eaton.

Screening of “Screenagers” Tuesday

The documentary “Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age” will be shown at Hinesburg Community School at 7 p.m. on March 26. The film is an examination of family life and struggles over social media, video games, academics and internet addiction with suggestions for parents and kids in navigating and finding balance in the digital world.

The community is welcome. Doors will open at 6:45 p.m. with snacks. There will be a discussion following the screening.

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