Supporting Our Schools

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Supporting Our Schools: “Away for the Day” in context

Here at PSTT we’ve spent the past two school years learning about the ways in which our schools need support around kids’ use of personal tech.  We’ve had conversations with school administrators and counselors and we’ve (informally) surveyed teachers.  Certainly, our schools are already hard at work integrating technology into our students’ academic learning and MUHS is also adept at providing tech tools to facilitate student navigation of due dates, calendars and activity schedules.  Our schools are moving toward a goal of 1:1 access, students: computers. This can provide equity; supporting students to use technology to grow their understanding and learning together in the classroom.  What we’ve been hearing loud and clear from school staff and parents of high school students is a need for support of students around digital citizenship –meaning ethics, online safety, privacy awareness, relationships & communication, etiquette, and more.  In short, we’re looking at helping our schools focus on how to model and how to mentor healthy relationships with technology since unbalanced relationships with tech are showing up in classrooms, hallways, the lunch room, the locker room, etc.  We hope this is the start of developing a school culture that is both tech positive and balanced.

To support modeling and mentoring positive use of tech, ACSD’s Digital Learning Plan calls upon the district to “Design/adopt, trial, and implement a curriculum scope and sequence for Digital Citizenship education.”  When this didn’t happen on the timeline set out in the Digital Learning Plan, PSTT facilitated efforts to begin to include a digital citizenship curriculum as part of the MUHS advisory program.  With PSTT’s ongoing support, this went into effect in spring 2019 and will continue in the fall.  

Alongside modeling positive tech behaviors to students and mentoring students through tech challenges, the third important piece is providing structure.  We encourage our schools to provide structure to tech life much like they provide structure to the MUHS curriculum.  We are interested in helping MUHS look at ways to structure student space, student time and tech access itself to best support students in using their personal tech thoughtfully.  One aspect of structuring tech is looking at when and where students have access to their personal tech. Responding to concern from many staff and community members, PSTT is exploring interest in implementing an “Away for the Day” policy at MUHS.  We don’t yet know exactly what this might look like and there may be allowable reasons for some students to use personal tech during a school day (parent communication or personal medical monitoring come to mind).  But exploring the possibilities seems important.

If you live in the ACSD community and would like to be added as a supporter to our Statement of Interest, please send us your name and town of residence.

As we continue to support MUHS and ACSD in modeling & mentoring healthy relationships with tech, and structuring school to support personal tech success, please consider joining the conversation!

Statement of Interest

 

PSTT’s Summer Plans

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Just a little heads up that PSTT is keeping a pretty modest pace this summer. Aside from clocking a lot of hours outside and pursuing the perfect maple creemee, we do want to share that we have a few organizational priorities lined up:

  1. Meet with parent organizers from Burlington High School and CVU about their/our efforts to support our school systems around tech intentionality;
  2. Begin gathering the names of ACSD parents, students and other community members interested in having an “Away for the Day” policy at MUHS; and
  3. Post on our blog at least once each month, so you don’t think we’ve gone completely AWOL.

Please keep in touch! We just love hearing from our readers. Happy summer!

Looking Ahead To Summer: Screen-Free Vacations?

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I’ve been lured by the idea of screen-free vacations in the past, but though we’ve loved our 2-3 night unplugged camping trips, our family has never committed to a full week sans device. We’ve decided to kick off this summer with a weeklong break from phones, iPads, and laptops, and I’m really happy about it. I know several families who have done a screen-free week (or more!) at home, and that’s something I’d also like to try. But for now, I’m grateful for the change of scene, and personnel, that will make this a fun, and hopefully easy, travel experiment. 

This Friday, our three kids (8, 10 and 12) will finish up their last day of school and then we’ll join my parents for a week at a rental cottage on Lake George. We’ll also bring the beloved 22-yo college student from Argentina for whom we serve as host family.  Since she’s pursuing a career in child psychology, and not a person typically tethered to her phone, she’s been enthused about this tech plan–especially since she thinks it’ll increase the likelihood of more rounds of her favorite board game, Clue. 

I realize we are stacking the deck a bit by bringing along the “big sister without the bickering” bonus kid and the much-adored grandparents, and we’ll be lakeside with kayaks and grandpa’s boat and lots of other summer-fun accoutrements, so our digital detox is perhaps less meltdown-bound than some trips. But it’s something new to us, and I’m glad we’re taking the plunge. We’ve had fun talking about which games and puzzles to pack, and I feel my pulse slow a bit every time I picture us dispersed with our stacks of books.

I’m eager to see how I, personally, will be impacted by being that unplugged. I can almost taste the feeling of being truly “in the moment” and of allowing myself to listen indulgently and without distraction to my loved ones. I admit, it’ll be a stretch for me to go on solo walks (and even do dishes) without my usual podcast accompaniment, but I suspect that’ll lead to some beneficial reflection time and the chance to notice birdsong, and maybe I’ll even capture some of the elusive zen of dishwashing.

As I sat down to write this post, I decided to see if there were other handy resources I could share with families preparing for the summer ahead. If you’re also considering a break from screens, you might appreciate the many tips in this piece I found, called How to Take a Screen-Free Vacation. I identified with the writer’s urge for a break from fighting about technology, which while thankfully not a huge part of our lives is still one of the larger sources of disharmony.

What is your family doing about technology this summer? Are you anxious about the prospect of filling those less-structured days? Does the idea of a screen-free week make you itchy? Here’s a gentle alternative from from one of our favorite sources, the Tech Talk Tuesday blog, about resisting digital compulsion by simply turning off notifications. This other piece from the same blog has some great general advice on how to handle technology over the summer.

I’ll be sure to report back on our screen-free week, and we’d love to hear from others who’ve experimented with unplugging a bit. We at PSTT wish you all a smooth transition into summer!

Phone Confiscation: Pros & Cons

Screen Shot 2019-04-03 at 10.00.05 AMThis piece from Child & Mind Institute offers some analysis of why simply confiscating your child’s phone as punishment might not be as useful a response as it might seem. At PSTT, we love parenting approaches that maximize learning and growth, particularly when positioned as mentorship of kids’ development as digital citizens. Thankfully, this piece doesn’t suggest we shy away from setting limits or from occasionally removing access to certain phone features when justified by the situation.

We’d love to hear what works in your household when things go awry. Do you appreciate having the phone as leverage? At any rate, we urge you to give this piece a read. We found it pretty useful and appreciated the inclusion of practical tips from clinical psychologist Beth Peters and from Catherine Steiner-Adair, author of The Big Disconnect. Happy reading!

April 10, 2019: Resilience Workshops for 6th-12th Grade Parents

MUHS Parent NightMark your calendars! PSTT (Parents Supporting Thoughtful Technology) will offer a workshop called Tweens, Teens & Screens during this multi-topic event. Parents/guardians of kids grades 6-12 welcome. PSTT’s workshop will focus on how to navigate screens at home with tweens and teens. We hope to support parents in sharing what works for them and what are the challenges they face within their own families. We’ll share some of our learning around screens and their impact on our teens/tweens. Come ready to share in small groups and gain tools for thoughtful use of technology. Other workshops will be available at this event, too.

Viewing Opportunity: PSTT on MCTV

Screen Shot 2019-03-24 at 9.22.07 AMOur PSTT co-founders were busy in the community last week! While Julie assisted the high school in preparing digital citizenship curriculum tools for their Advisory program, Samantha and Amy were at Middlebury Community Television taping an episode of the show Growing Bright Futures. Cheryl Mitchell interviewed us about our work in the community supporting families, kids, and schools. We’re also gearing up to participate in a local event on April 10th for parents of kids in grades 6-12, so stay tuned for those details.

Huge thanks to Middlebury Union High School, ACSD, Building Bright Futures, and Middlebury Community Television for engaging with us as we help build practices of intentional technology use here in our community.

Digital Minimalism

Last month, Cal Newport’s new book Digital Minimalism was published. I’ve just ordered a copy and in the meantime wanted to share a link to a podcast episode called “How Social Media is Ruining Your Life” in which he discusses his work. Despite the unfortunate title, the episode is worth a listen. Newport explores the ways new technology is created and how it can be used to enhance our lives. He also explains how technology can create barriers to connecting with others in real time, can inhibit deep thinking, and may explain the rise in anxiety we’re seeing in teens. I don’t agree with all Newport’s points, but I did appreciate hearing so many of his ideas come together in under an hour.

I was struck by the connection Newport makes to the new Netflix series Marie Kondo about what brings you joy and what makes your life more cluttered. Why not look at your core values and then make choices about what apps you want to have on your cellphone, rather than keeping every single one you might someday use? For example, you might really want the meditation app to help you focus and stay calm, if that’s in line with your core values. But perhaps there are other apps you can do without, or could limit to laptop use only. This streamlined way of using your phone might free you up to be more present with those around you and even allow moments of boredom–imagine that–which are essential for processing and mental health. I’m looking forward to reading his book. Let me know what you think!

Post by Samantha Farrell-SchmittIMG_2056

Phones & birthday parties: to mix or not to mix?

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Recently we hosted our 7th grade daughter’s 12th birthday party, to which 10 classmates were invited. Aside from figuring out what to feed everyone and where to cram all their sleeping bags, Brian and I wrestled with the decision about how to handle phones. We know at least some of the girls, including our kid, don’t yet have their own phones, but we wanted to find a way to keep phones from playing a big role in the event. And we didn’t want to come off as judge-y of other families. Our chief motivations for restricting phone use were 1) to allow the party-goers to focus on real, interpersonal interactions without the distraction of devices and 2) to avoid the need to closely monitor online activity that could result in kids accessing social media or other content best saved for high school or beyond.

After some mental gymnastics, reading this article, and talking with a couple of other parents of phone-free kids, we decided to send an email to all the other parents, which included the following: “Just a heads up that we are hoping to have this be a phone-free event. We’ll plan to collect any phones when kids arrive and keep them safely in our entryway or kitchen. If your daughter wants to access her phone for a moment to text or call you to say goodnight, or to reach you for another reason, that’s certainly fine. You’re very welcome to call or text us at 802-123-4567 if you want or need to.”

We didn’t hear complaints from other kids or parents, and the overall response was favorable and grateful. Moms and dads said things like “THANK YOU for the party being phone free!” and “I love that this is going to be phone-free!” and “I can’t even imagine girls at a sleepover all on their devices….what is the point of a sleepover like that?!” 

It wasn’t a completely tech-free evening. The girls listened to some music on bluetooth speakers playing from an iPod, and they watched a cheesy movie they chose that was deemed age-appropriate by the convenient online resource CommonSense Media.

Aside from the usual sleepover fallout of not enough shuteye, the party was free of major drama and there was lots of laughter and fun. The benefits certainly outweighed any discomfort for us and, we hope, for the kids. We won’t hesitate to do the same for future events. 

We at PSTT wonder, what has and hasn’t worked in your house in terms of phone use and online access at your kids’ gatherings? What might you do differently? 

Post by Amy Mason

The New Digital Divide

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Yikes, it’s been ages since our last blog post! Lest you fear your PSTT team has been slacking, let us reassure you that we’ve been doing lots of behind-the scenes work to follow up on suggestions parents and educators had at last year’s community events. Chiefly, we’re in the midst of conversations with MUHS and ACSD to help support initiatives that optimize the digital experience of our students. Stay tuned for updates! In the meantime, we wanted to make sure no one missed this powerful article in the October 26 issue of the New York Times.

For many years, talk of a gap between kids from  lower income and higher income families stemmed from the concern that students from higher income families would have greater access to technology at home and school, and therefore be better prepared for a world that prizes tech skills. This led to lots of investments by school systems and other organizations to help assure students across the board had equity in terms of access. “One-to-one” initiatives, in which there’s a dedicated computer for every student in a school, are becoming the norm, and in fact ACSD’s Digital Learning plan, adopted in January, calls for budgeting that will “sunset current lease agreements on user devices to shift that spending model toward cloud-based and affordable devices in order to put more devices in more students’ hands.” Vermont’s Agency of Education advises, “All Vermont schools should be providing full-time or near full-time access to technology for all students, especially those in Grades 3 and higher. This does not necessarily mean that technology is being used in a full-time manner, but that the availability is there as it is needed to support learning.” The focus in the world of education has been on increasing access as a means toward equity.

According to this NYT writer, however, the divide in more recent days has shifted to benefit students whose parents and educators are more likely to be present in the student’s digital world to set limits and help students learn to set their own limits. The article quotes former Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson as having said, ““The digital divide was about access to technology, and now that everyone has access, the new digital divide is [about] limiting access to technology.” Families with greater means are increasingly choosing private schools where screen-free learning modalities are emphasized, and public school systems in more affluent communities are responding to parental pressure to restrict access to devices during the school day, to teach about digital citizenship and to show more restraint in balancing technology with a focus on other types of learning.

In a recent issue of her Tech Talk Tuesdays blog, a source we PSTT founders find truly worthwhile, Dr. Delaney Rushton also delves into the ways in which some families are exercising greater restraint around the use of technology. Check that out if you’d like to read more.

PSTT’s overarching message at this point can be summed up as, “Thanks for working to ensure kids have equitable access. Let’s make sure we’re truly intentional about how to use that access, knowing that more is not always more, and staying true to a healthy 24-hour digital diet.” The PSTT team wants to know: what are your thoughts on this disparity of opportunity for families? How should we address this in our schools, homes and community? This is a topic we’ll continue to keep front and center in our work to support ACSD families and schools.

Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks

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