Devices Down: Monticello Middle School Tries to Keep Wednesdays Free for Families

Devices Down: Monticello Middle School Tries to Keep Wednesdays Free for Families Photo: Monticello School District

September 05, 2018 04:10 PM

Matt Coalwell feels fortunate to be at a school in which every student receives a Google Chromebook on which to work.

But he said with that technology comes responsibility as well.

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That's why the Monticello Middle School assistant principal has helped lead an effort designed to give students a mid-week breather from their digital devices, and perhaps increase the opportunity for quality family time as well.

Beginning this school year, teachers at the school have been asked to reduce, and when possible avoid entirely, assigning homework on Wednesday nights.

The idea is to eliminate the need for students to be on their devices - at least for school-related reasons - one night out of the school week.

"I was sitting with another principal at a school board meeting last year, and we heard a local physician - Dr. Joel Mahoney - talk about how busy kids are, and the lack of interaction that can cause in their immediate families," he said. 

"And it struck us that the school probably has a responsibility to help address that situation."


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That other principal was Eric Olson, who has since been named superintendent in the district. And Coalwell said he has been very supportive of the effort.

Monticello Middle School is the only school in the district rolling out the idea so far. Coalwell said the modified schedule being implemented there this school year makes it an easier concept to pull off.

Students at the middle school will have block scheduling on Wednesdays and Thursdays, meaning they will see half their teachers one day and the other half the next for a longer stretch of time.

"So if a student is assigned homework on Tuesday, it could be they won't see that teacher again until Thursday, depending on the class period," Coalwell said. "And if they are assigned homework on Wednesday, it could be they won't see that teacher again until Friday."

Of course, that doesn't mean students won't procrastinate, leaving homework until the last minute on Wednesday nights.

And there may be some occasions when assigning work at home that night is unavoidable.

Coalwell said faculty has simply been asked to do the best they can.

"Our teachers have been really receptive to the idea," he said. "We're just asking them to do as much as they can reasonably to make this happen."

Parents have seemed to embrace the idea as well.

"We had a meeting in August and (principal) Jeff Scherber presented the idea to us," said Jessica Bechtold, the chair of the school's parent involvement group. "The reaction was really positive. It sounds like a great idea on the school's part. But parents will have to step up as well. Or maybe step down is more accurate.

"If the school is making the effort to keep that night free for families, it's up to families to take advantage of the opportunity as well."

Coalwell hopes the idea takes hold not just in the classroom, but in the living room as well.

"Maybe students will say, 'We're off our devices, so how about you too Mom and Dad,'" he said.

"Big-picture, we just want to do what we can on our part to provide a healthy balance. Ultimately, we're trying to do what's best for the students. And if there is a way we can help facilitate more family time, or a better night's sleep, that's going to be a positive for everyone involved."

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Frank Rajkowski

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