Kimberton Waldorf School was recently featured in the Daily Local News for becoming phone free. Read the full article below or at the Daily Local here.
Phone-free schools address global problem
A private school in Chester County implements new systems to address distraction by technology.
This fall, the landscape looks different at Kimberton Waldorf School in Chester County.
Nothing has impacted the appearance of the picturesque campus that lies along French Creek in the historic district of Kimberton Village. Instead, it was a change the school felt was necessary to make to its technology landscape after its governance identified an increasing concern over the grip that cellphone usage was having on students nationally, and the impact this was beginning to have on their own school environment.
This resulted in KWS deciding to make the entire school cellphone and smartwatch free during the school day.
“One thing that has become clear in recent years, no less for us than for thousands of other schools, is that social media is having a negative impact on our students,” said Dr. Brad Kershner, KWS’s Dean of School. “We see this in terms of how it captures and degrades their attention and in terms of how it influences the process of identity formation.
“The amount of overall exposure is therefore a serious concern, and what we see in schools is that even the mere presence of cell phones has negative consequences. The lure is just too strong.”
Beginning on the first day of school, KWS implemented new systems to address the problem of technological distraction in the lower school, middle school and high school. For the high school, they joined a movement of schools that have partnered with Yondr, a company that creates phone-free spaces by way of lockable pouches.
“For those who bring devices to school, we are piloting the program with Yondr in the high school, and in our middle school we are collecting phones and putting them in a lock box during the school day,” Kershner said. “Grades four and below are asked not to bring devices to school.”
A phone-free space is aimed at improving class management, reducing distraction and enhancing student engagement among other benefits, resulting in improved student behavior, academic performance and student connectedness.
“Educators around the world are seeing the damaging effects of phones on student engagement, social development and mental health,” Yondr says on its website.
Each high school student at KWS who brings a device to school is required to place it in their own lockable Yondr pouch upon arrival at school. The students are then in possession of their phone that’s in the locked pouch for the entire school day.
If a student has a documented medical reason that requires them to have access to their phone, the school will make an exception. Otherwise, necessary communications to parents come from the school’s staff as usual, and in the event a student needs to call home for any reason, there are landlines available.
At the end of the day, their Yondr pouch gets unlocked by tapping the opening of the pouch on a magnetic unlocking base. They then place their empty pouch in a collection bin that’s organized per grade.
Tammi Stein, the admissions coordinator at KWS who has a child in the high school and another who recently graduated, discussed the benefits this change brings to the students.
“Yondr is a way to allow them to be free to focus on learning during the school day,” Stein said.
Not only does she feel this positively impacts her child’s time at school, but it also makes her feel more supported in her home life.
“I think it’s a hard issue to tackle alone as a family, and it’s nice to be a part of a community that is tackling it together,” she said.
It’s no secret that we’re living in a time when it’s difficult for both children and adults to unplug. Clearly, schools are taking note, since Kimberton isn’t the only school looking to combat the issue. Yondr partners with thousands of schools across 16 countries.
“This is a global issue,” Stein said.
In addition to KWS taking action to address the issue during the school day, the school creates opportunities for parents to gather to talk about the issue.
“It’s being addressed at a school-wide level versus just leaving parents to address it as a family,” Stein said.
A book that was the focus of a recent KWS Community Education Event that was open to the public is titled “Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention — and How to Think Deeply Again” by Johann Hari. Through extensive research, the book explores how humanity’s focus has decreased over the years.
“It is addressing not just technology, but multiple issues that affect our focus,” Stein said. “This book brings up a lot of ideas.”
On the topic of technology, the book discusses the deliberate way that tech companies are working to get the attention of teenagers.
“It discusses how our society allows corporations to use technology this way, that it’s harming our youth and we’re allowing corporations to take our attention,” Stein said.
The book proposes and explores how collective action could address this issue systemically.
“It is important to understand that removing smart devices from schools is just one facet of a much broader constellation of solutions that are needed to address a systemic social problem,” Kershner said. “We want our students and families to understand how social media dysregulates and disrupts our social fabric, and how the overall well-being of our children requires a holistic approach to social, emotional, cognitive and physical health.
“Our decision to make our school phone-free is just one example of how we’re helping children and families to regain agency, balance, and well-being in an increasingly stressful and complex world.”
Yondr works with educators, artists, organizations and individuals around the world to create phone-free spaces where genuine connection, focus, and creativity can flourish in the absence of technology. To learn more, visit www.overyondr.com.
“Stolen Focus — Why You Can’t Pay Attention — and How to Think Deeply Again” by Johann Hari (Crown)
About the book: Our ability to pay attention is collapsing. From the New York Times bestselling author of “Chasing the Scream” and “Lost Connections” comes a groundbreaking examination of why this is happening — and how to get our attention back.
For more information and to order, visit www.stolenfocusbook.com.
About Kimberton Waldorf School
KWS is a co-educational independent private school for early childhood through 12th grade located in Kimberton, Chester County. It’s a place where academics, nature and the arts converge to form a holistic-based curriculum that represents a 100-year heritage of Waldorf education. There are 1,000 Waldorf schools in 64 countries.