FALL RIVER, Mass. — Like her peers, Joseph Case High School senior Sarah Aguiar, 17, doesn't remember a time when there wasn't an Internet nor a time when people didn't carry cellphones.
After all, the Internet pre-dates Aguiar and her peers, having been introduced to the public more than 20 years ago.
Some school districts, like Swansea, have adopted policies that allow high school students like Aguiar to use cellphones and other personal electronic devices, while in school — at lunch, in hallways and in classes — provided, in the case of the latter, that said use is related to the classroom lessons being taught.
The Somerset Berkley Regional School District adopted a similar policy. So had the Fall River Public Schools nearly two years ago for B.M.C. Durfee High School. In other schools around Greater Fall River — Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School, Westport High School and Tiverton High School — cellphones and other device use is still prohibited.
At this point, in elementary schools and middle schools, such technology use is generally still prohibited.
In schools where use is permitted, it's still up to teachers to decide when that use is appropriate, school officials said.
School principals who spoke with The Herald News used a common phrase to describe how students have grown up with technology: digital native. Those principals also described to help students become prepared for the digitally connected world they already live in.
Case Principal Brian McCann called it "common sense policy" for his school to adopt a bring-your-own-technology policy.
"These students are digital natives and we need to treat them like adults," McCann said, adding that educators have a responsibility to teach what he referred to as "digital citizenship," showing students how to interact with others in a digital environment. For example, not giving out personal information to strangers, making good choices, he said.
At Case, the school library has received a recent makeover to reflect the changing times — becoming what officials now call a "learning commons."
McCann and Kristine Lucca, who has been a librarian at Case for 30 years, gave a recent tour of the commons. It was the first makeover the library had received in 40 years, Lucca said.
Aguiar was sitting at one of the commons' new high, cafe-style tables with high-top chairs, with a stack of books on her table. She said she is enrolled in two classes Case is able to offer through its "virtual high school" program, studying sociology and the Holocaust.
Somerset Berkley High School Principal David Lanczyzki said his building has had a bring-your-own-technology policy in place for a couple of years now. He noted the importance of teaching students when it's appropriate to use cellphones and when that use is inappropriate.
"We had to change with times. Instead of hiding phone, let's use them to our advantage," Lanczyzki said. "In the past it was strict no cellphone policy. If a student was seen with one, a teacher would confiscate it ... It's a total 180 in terms of mindset."
"They have never not known what an Internet was," Lanczyzki said.
He said it comes down to classroom management. "We have really great teachers," Lanczyzki said, adding, "The teacher gets to decide how they want to use phones. One teacher decides we're not using, asks students to put them away. Another teacher might say take out your cellphone.
When asked about the potential for cellphone use to pose classroom distractions, McCann replied, "It's a distraction if you make it a distraction."
And there are times when cellphone use simply is not appropriate. For example, McCann said, "If you're working on machinery in workshop, maybe your phone should be away."
"We want to encourage the use of technology ... Obviously, there are some rules that must come along with that," said Jeffrey Schoonover, superintendent of Somerset Public Schools and Somerset Berkley.
At Durfee, the bring-your-own-technology policy has so far seen mixed results, explained Fall River Public Schools Superintendent Meg Mayo-Brown.
Contrasted with the previous prohibition on personal device use, Mayo-Brown said now "you see students when they're changing classes, a good portion of them either have headphones in or their phones out. We've heard reports from teachers that it can be a distraction if kids don't put their phones away as asked."
She said, "Revisions need to be made."
"If students are respectful of teachers' request there isn't issue. When students push back, then it becomes a disciplinary issue," Mayo-Brown said. "There needs to be consistency at the high school — a clear set of consequences when a student is not adhering to teachers' expectations."
While there have been some disciplinary challenges, in other cases, the policy has enhanced classroom instruction, particular in those classes where teachers are making use of them.
Mayo-Brown said there are apps teachers have been using that are "like a survey. You can respond via cellphone. And the app calculates responses over screen. You see more and more teachers using apps. I think there's a balance between what works well and what becomes a distraction," she said.
Even in schools where bringing personal technology is not permitted, there's a recognition that students, parents and educators share an increasingly digitally connected space. For example, Westport High School Principal Cheryl Tutalo uses social media site Twitter as a means to post school updates and highlight the work of students and faculty. "The Villager," Westport High School's student newspaper, also has a Twitter presence.
Meanwhile, in Somerset Berkley, Lanczyzki said he sees the school heading in a direction where each student has their own device. Enabling technology use is a recognition that technology use is pervasive outside school walls. Technology is also constantly evolving.
"We need to educate them for the world they're going to live in, so they're ahead of the curve," Lanczyzki said. As for how educators can make good use of technology in their classrooms, he said, "Part of it is good lesson creation that's engaging and makes that classroom shine. Part of education is you have to entertain in some fashion, to keep their (students') attention."
Information from: The (Fall River, Mass.) Herald News, http://www.heraldnews.com