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Unplugged yet Connected at Midland School

Ditching Cell Phones and Finding Community at Los Olivos Boarding School

With research compounding the negative effects of cell phones, schools are struggling to come up with policies, and some are beginning to institute smartphone bans. Meanwhile, at Midland School, an independent boarding high school in Los Olivos, the founding values make it a bit simpler for students to be both unplugged and connected. 

“Mobile technology is ubiquitous, and most of us, schools especially, never stopped to think through the potential consequences,” explained Head of School Christopher Barnes. “We do on an ongoing basis. This goes back to our founding values of simplicity and considering what we ‘need’ and what we ‘want’ in every decision. Introducing new technology to our campus is always viewed through this lens and gives us the opportunity to truly weigh the benefits and costs on our community and program.”

Students have Wi-Fi-accessible Chromebooks, but cell phones are not allowed, a policy that Hana Harvey, a senior and head prefect, finds just fine. “I do not miss having a cell phone at all,” she said. “I find that I am far less distracted without one, and I have learned so much about human interaction that I would not have been able to with a phone.” 

For example, if she’s upset with someone, she can’t just shoot a quick text to ask what’s wrong. Instead, she must talk to them directly. “Being here forces me to slow down and confront people face to face,” said Harvey. “When I am home for breaks or summer vacation, I am startled by how quickly I fall into the routine of relying on my phone for entertainment. When I am here, I feel like I have to work my brain to entertain myself instead of immediately pulling out my phone in moments of boredom.” 

Barnes said that Midland students frequently use technology, but that it comes with limits and expectations. “Can a student watch a movie in their free time? Absolutely,” he explained. “However, we do it as a group activity together, not alone hiding away behind a screen, furthering our commitment to face-to-face interactions and authentic community.”

The students are sometimes most adamant about the cell phone policies. “Our students support and help enforce our community expectations, including the time in my first year when I snuck a peek at my phone on election night in the dining hall and a student gently reminded me to take it outside,” said Barnes. “They very quickly realize what a positive impact it has on their social and academic lives.”

Harvey is very clear on what less cell phone use means for her. “I find that I am less distracted, more productive, and I can focus for longer periods of time,” she said. “Not having a phone means that I have a lot of extra time to focus on what matters to me.”

See midland-school.org.

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