Harvard-Westlake Middle School Smartphone Lockdown

Interview with Kian Chen (HW Class of 2023)

Harvard-Westlake recently implemented a controversial policy banning all use of smartphones on the middle school campus at all times (with the exception of emergencies). Under this new policy, even if students want to call their parents, they must do so from the dean’s offices. Upper school students still have the option to access their school IDs from an app on their phones, but under the new policy, this amenity is not available to middle school students making it so that students who forget their physical IDs at home are now forbidden from pulling them up on their phones.

Not unexpectedly, there has been a good deal of pushback regarding this new policy, both from students and from parents. The issue raises questions over whether or not technology should be integrated into campus life, and if so, to what extent. HW’s approach seems counterintuitive to many, considering the increasingly “connected” world in which we live. There have also been discussions regarding the pros and cons of having different policies for different students, given that the ban on all devices only applies to middle schoolers while upper students have no restrictions.

Multiple studies have given support for the opposing sides of this issue, with some showing benefits of allowing devices on campus and others showing potential detriments. But many students across both campuses believe that HW, which is recognized as a forward-thinking and innovative school, should be on the forefront of embracing technology and the benefits it can offer students. And there are many who advocate for a cohesive approach across both campuses, arguing that students will face disadvantages by transitioning from a campus with a full tech ban to one with total freedom. To find out more about how students are responding to the new ban, we spoke Kian Chen, a seventh grader at Harvard-Westlake.

When asked how he feels about the ban on cell phones, Kian answered, “It bothers me because I use my phone for many things that are productive for school. If you could use your phone for things like the iHW App (an app that allows students to pull up real time school schedules) or the HW iD card App (an app that allows students to pull up a digital version of their ID to purchase food from the cafeteria or the bookstore), we could never worry about forgetting our IDs at home or messing up our schedules on special assembly days. So overall, I would say it is not beneficial.”

In regards to the school’s decision to implement the ban only on middle schoolers, Kian said, “I know it’s because they don’t want the middle schoolers to get distracted on their phones because they are young and responsible. However, I think we should be given more trust.”

This raises questions about expectations on the part of the school. Though middle school students are slightly younger than their upper school counterparts, at a school like Harvard-Westlake, which is renowned for its high standards, how much personal responsibility should be entrusted to the students themselves when it comes to issues like smartphone use on campus? Kian believes, “They should trust us with that responsibility. We need to learn it sooner rather than later. Of course there will be mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. But the most important thing is [that] we learn from those mistakes and learn to manage ourselves. We are going to be thrown into a world of technology anyways, so why don’t we begin practicing how to navigate it!”

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