by Lisa Tome
Two weeks ago, Jillian Miller's cell phone was banned during school hours.
Now, she uses it freely - between classes and during lunch.
"With the old policy, you would get it taken or get yelled at. Now, depending on the teacher, you can listen to music while you take a test. Everybody is listening to music. It helps me concentrate," said Miller, a sophomore at Perryville High.
About two weeks ago, Perryville High began piloting a program called Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). So far, it's a success.
Perryville High School principal Charles Helm said he was approached by Dr. Jeff Lawson, the school system's executive director for high schools in late November. Dr. Lawson asked Helm if he'd be interested in piloting BYOD for the system.
"We live in an age where technology is used by all of us everyday," said Helm, as he pecked out an email on his iPhone.
Now students can use their cell phones, laptop computers, tablets, iPods, and mp3 players freely, during certain times of the school day and in class, if given permission. Phones cannot be used to make calls, unless a student obtains permission from a school staffer and is in the presence of that staffer while making the call.
Specifically, students can use their device before and after school, during class changes, and at lunchtime, and at the discretion of teachers during class. In the first eight days, school administrators dealt with four students who did not comply with the policy. Before BYOD, that number of referrals was much greater.
Helm said that this policy is preparing students for life after high school. Colleges currently use interactive technology.
Before BYOD was rolled out during the second semester, Helm met with every class, grades 9-12 and explained the change in policy.
"You could have heard a pin drop. They were very excited. This is an awesome opportunity for them to use technology," said Helm.
Wes Zimmerman, Director of Technology for Cecil County Public Schools, outlined the program for county council members last week. Zimmerman said that Perryville High staffers still remain in control of their classrooms. "All we've done is give them more options," said Zimmerman.
Helm said that right now, the students are only scratching the surface of the uses of technology. Students are using the devices to listen to music, as calculators, in art classes to take photos, and for emailing assignments to teachers. They may not use cell phone cameras during school.
Parents were also given the opportunity to have their students not participate. Of the about 800 students in the school, four opted out.
Zimmerman said the increase of device use has not taxed the school's broadband system. There is blocked content. One example is that the social media site, facebook, is blocked. Zimmerman also said the school controls how much a student downloads.
After eight days, Helm said there has been no negative feedback. If the success continues without any glitches, the remaining county high schools will have BYOD for the next school year.
Zimmerman said BYOD is "culture driven" CCPS officials visited other high schools that had implemented the plan. He said the plan is designed to remove technology barriers. "Technology is not a barrier. It's something we embrace and use," he said. The program has also made for a quieter cafeteria during lunch shifts. Students are required to use head phones when listening to music. They are asked to leave one ear open for announcements or other information.
"It has been very, very well received. I didn't have anyone question the validity of this," said Helm.
During functional and other mandated testing, devices will be disabled.