Westerly schools to use phones to aid learning

Educators in Westerly will soon have the opportunity to use cell phones to help students learn.

"The real idea is to productively use the technology that's available to energize the classroom with new ways of instructing and engaging students," said Westerly Superintendent of Schools Roy Seitsinger, Jr.

The school committee voted unanimously in favor of allowing digital devices to be powered on during the school day with limited use to help teachers teach and to help students learn.

The new policy begins in the fall.

Currently, students have been required to have their cell phones turned off the entire time they are in school.

"Let's acknowledge that cell phones already exist in the hands of most students in our district right now. So, we're looking at ways that we can more prudently use the technology that's already available to most of our students, and use it in a productive way," Seitsinger said.

"And there's a multitude of apps and uses that teachers can engage students with around research, around different classroom activities, around formative assessments that we think need to be considered, now that this technology is literally available to us in the pockets of students."

Although administrators said there could be temptation to use the devices for non-educational purposes, Seitsinger said they've come up with comprehensive guidelines to put parents and educators at ease.

"We will have an acceptable use policy that outlines how the technology can be used, and outlines where it's appropriate to use it. And there will be a structure where there will be consequences if necessary. We have to respect, and that's the word, we have to respect the use of the technology," Seitsinger said.

Alicia Storey, assistant superintendent, agreed.

"As for the freedoms, the policy addresses how high school students will deal with the 'Bring Your Own Device' (policy), as well as middle school and elementary school," she said.

Both school officials said they trust that once the policy is in place, most students will do the right thing.

"In actual fact, the research shows that, students take responsibility when we ask them to," Seitsinger said.

"I think it's an exciting policy that brings us into the new forefront of education which is technology driven," said high school teacher Brendan Murphy.

School committee members, administrators and teachers are hoping that allowing digital devices to be turned on in the classroom will help to teach students a secondary lesson in the process.

"It gives teachers an opportunity to work with students on the topic of digital citizenship," Murphy said.

The school committee plans to conduct a thorough review of the policy a year after the rules take effect in September.