Some schools say yes to cellphones in classrooms

HORSHAM, Pa. (WPVI) -- These days teenagers are glued to their smartphones. And while many people see them as a distraction, two local schools are putting them to good use.

"I think before the internet was like the boogeyman; it was like you do not bring anything off the internet in the classroom," Germantown Academy English teacher Chidi Asoluka said.

But schools soon found themselves in a quandary. Even with computer labs being a part of the curriculum for decades, the idea of having access to technology in an isolated environment became antiquated.

"They walk into our building and it's like walking into a museum," Horsham-Hatboro High School Principal Dennis Williams said.

So we visited the two schools - Germantown Academy and Hatboro-Horsham High School - to see how they are evolving by not only allowing appropriate smartphone use in the classroom, but also social use in designated areas.

Germantown Academy has integrated a digital citizenship program that spans kindergarten through 12th grade teaching students everything from responsible social media use to understanding copyright and fair use on a digital platform.

"Here at GA we feel that citizenship is citizenship whether it's you and I engaged in a conversation face to face or engaging via text over our phones," Germantown Academy librarian Mary Fraser said.

"If a student says, 'Hey, can I look up a word on my iPhone?' I say yes. I feel like six years ago I would say get the dictionary, you don't need the phone, we have books for that," Asoluka said.

At Hatboro-Horsham High School, the perspective on smartphones in the class and hallway also changed six years ago; instead of forbidding smartphones, teachers got creative.

"It's a matter of taking advantage of the technology they already have at their fingertips, but most importantly teaching them how to use it respectfully," Williams said.

Even the Germantown Academy library has evolved.

This summer the school donated thousands of books to make room for an innovation center equipped with smart boards and a 3-D printer and educators have learned their role is changing as well.

"To really have a human being there to say what are you finding, where is it coming from, let's consider its perspective," Fraser said.

"I think it's more of an advantage because they are already on their phones so why not use them in school?" Hatboro-Horsham 12th grader Sean Orr said.

In one Hatboro-Horsham senior science class, students use their smartphones to take pictures of a traditional lab dissection. They then post the photos to Twitter and a webpage that can be shared with other classes in the school and around the country.

"It adds one more level of interest and excitement and its using something that let's face it, they all have them; they pretty much came out of the womb with [the phone] attached to their hands, we might as well put them to use," Hatboro-Horsham science teacher Chris Baker said.

Schools are also using social media, like Twitter, to communicate with students and parents about snow days, school events and announcements.

Administrators from both schools say by not integrating smartphones into the classrooms every day, they are simply not preparing this generation for the real world.
Copyright © 2020 WPVI-TV. All Rights Reserved.