OXFORD — For proof of how prolific technology has become over the past 20 years, look no further than an elementary school classroom.

Several elementary school principals in SAD 17 have said that a majority of their students own cellphones and bring them to class, some even have electronic reading devices or tablets.

Mike Dunn, technology director at SAD 17, said that while he is not in the classrooms often, he recognizes that the “use or appearance of personal devices in classrooms has grown tremendously.”

He said that in recent years, he has been most surprised by the rampant use of personal devices in classrooms by elementary school students.

“One of the elementary school principals told me that he thinks 60 or 70 percent of his fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students are using their own cellphones,” Dunn said.

Margaret Emery, who serves as principal at Waterford Memorial School and Harrison Elementary School, said many of the students at both schools have their own cellphones, and that some even have their own tablets that they use in the classroom.

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“Some of our students use their tablets for reading,” Emery said. “We encourage it. The way we look at it is that if they’re reading using a tablet, at least they’re reading.”

Emery and the other teachers in Waterford and Harrison understand that this is where our children are coming from now, she said.

“Technology is like a pencil to them,” Emery said. “I think it has a place in the classroom. I just want the students to realize that a hardcover book is just as good as a tablet.”

Emery said that many of the students in class who bring their own cellphones and tablets install educational apps that are approved by teachers to use outside the classroom.

“I’ve found that in school, especially elementary schools, the students are very respectful of what the teachers say in regards to technology,” Emery said. “When we say leave the phones or tablets in your bag, they’ll leave them in their bag. They’re very respectful of maintaining and understanding the rules we set.”

Although the teachers have been willing to acclimate to the prevalence of new technology in the classrooms, Emery said they still attempt to limit the use of screen time in class, Emery said.

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“It’s all about moderation,” she said. “We try to make sure that the kids aren’t overdoing it.”

Emery said fifth- and sixth-graders are more likely to bring their own cellphones or tablets to school, though “recently, it’s been creeping down into third and fourth grade.”

“I think a big reason is that parents like to be able to have a direct connection to their kids in the event of an emergency,” she said.

Tiffany Karnes, the principal of Oxford Elementary School and Otisfield Community School, said that 75 to 85 percent of students at the schools have their own cellphones.

“We ask that they keep them turned off during the school day, and a majority of the kids adhere to the rules,” Karnes said. “We’d rather they use the technology that we provide them so we can supervise the use.”

However, Karnes said, some of the teachers at Oxford Elementary will allow children to bring in their Kindles or iPads for reading.

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“We know that this is the way of the future,” Karnes said. “The more comfortable we can get kids with technology in the classroom, the better. It’s the way they’ve grown up, so it’s more engaging for them.”

Leave it home

Not every elementary school in SAD 17 has welcomed students’ personal devices in the classroom with open arms.

At Agnes Gray Elementary School in West Paris, Secretary Darlene Rogers said teachers discourage students from bringing their own technology into the classroom.

“Our kindergarten, first- and second-grade students are already being exposed to technology in the form the iPads we keep in class, while the second-, third- and fourth-graders are using computers in their lessons,” Rogers said. “It’s not that we think the students can’t be responsible with their own technology, but we don’t want kids bringing in their own property, and then having it get stepped on or taken.”

The teachers do encourage the students of Agnes Gray to use their technology at home to play educational games they played in class, Rogers said, or to visit a website that they were shown.

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“We know kids are using technology more and more at home, because we’ll give them a website, and they come back to us saying that they’ve bookmarked it on their home computer,” she said. “For us, it seems like third grade is where the kids have really started using the new technology.”

Close to 100 percent’

Cellphones and personal devices are even more prevalent at Oxford Hills Middle School, Principal Troy Eastman said.

Eastman, who has worked at the school for 11 years, said that when the Maine Learning Technology Initiative began in 2002, the height of technology in schools was a standard Macbook laptop.

“It’s been a slow evolution,” Eastman said. “Kids began bringing their MP3 players to school, and eventually, they were bringing iPods. Cellphones have become pretty popular in the last three years. At this point, most kids have them.”

Dunn agreed, estimating that “close to 100 percent” of students at Oxford Hills Middle School and Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School have a cellphone and bring it to school.

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Eastman said that every year, there are some middle school students who go a step further and bring their own laptops into the classroom.

“It’s allowed, but we just need to register it with our technology people to make sure it has antivirus protection before it’s on our network,” he said.

Dunn said that there is no policy restricting or preventing students from bringing their own laptops or tablets into the classroom and using them in lieu of the laptops the school offers.

“At the middle school and the high school, the network password is generally known among the students,” Dunn said. “It’s filtered, so it’s a much more restrictive side of the internet than they’d find at home, but it is allowed.”

The laptops provided by the school typically outweigh the laptops children have at home, Eastman said.

In June 2013, SAD 17 spent $327,000 to supply middle and high school students and staff with Macbook Air computers.

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“It’s a high-quality tool,” Eastman said, pointing out that with the Macbook Air, there’s less need for students to bring their own laptops or tablets to school.

“For the first few years, the laptops were used as a word processor,” he said. “There would be some research mixed in there, but it was pretty minimal. Now, with these new laptops, students can get feedback faster from teachers on essays they wrote. One time, we were able to Skype with Angus King for a social studies class while he was in Washington. You couldn’t do that in school 10 years ago.”

Eastman said that over time, the apprehension and fear that lingered around technology in schools has dissipated and been replaced by a respect for “how they can be used to go deeper into content.”

“Right now, we’re working closely with the high school to make sure that our students can build a strong knowledge base with the technology,” Eastman said. “The idea is for the students at the middle school to leave here, go to the high school, and have the same technology to work with.”

Next level

Karnes believes that as technology becomes more prevalent with younger students, and more children bring their personal devices into the classroom, schools need to “find ways to use it to our advantage, rather than trying to over-police it.”

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As for middle school students, Eastman said that the idea is to encourage them to embrace the technology as they grow up, rather than pushing it aside.

“We’re working closely with the high school to take it to the next level,” he said. “For the last two years, we’ve had a technology integrator between middle and high school. They’re someone who teaches us how to integrate technology into learning opportunities for the kids, and how to use technology in a different way.”

Eastman said that as more students bring their personal devices into the classroom, the schools should work harder to “empower students to come up with interesting ways of presenting material, and coming up with multiple pathways to demonstrate knowledge with new technology.”

Dunn said he believes technology has a place in the classroom, even students’ personal devices.

“I think there’s tremendous potential for technology to broaden and deepen students’ learning,” Dunn said. “Has that potential been realized? No. It probably hasn’t been realized in 98 percent of the school districts in the country.”

He added, “Are we aware of it and working on it? Absolutely.”

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