Howell High School students give up phones for a day


Howell High School English teacher, Ms. Jennifer Sebestyen, challenged her students to give up their phone for a school day. The idea came to her in the middle of the night in a form of an epiphany.

That evening, Ms. Sebestyen went to bed with a Facebook post in her mind. A fellow debate teacher from Plymouth-Canton had posted about how he feels technology has caused his students to have poor eye contact. This got Ms. Sebestyen thinking about how technology has influenced the ability to have interpersonal relationships.

“I’ve been concerned lately with how connected people are to their technology and that they’re missing out on life,” Ms. Sebestyen says.

Ms. Sebestyen wanted to help her students realize that they do not need their phones every waking hour of the day. Her epiphany gave her the idea to offer an extra credit assignment that would entail turning in the student’s phone for a day and then writing a page reflection on the experiment once the task was completed.

“I hoped for one day of people acknowledging how much time is spent on phones,” Ms. Sebestyen says.

Looking around a typical high school classroom, most believe that at least one student will have their phone on their desk or in their hand. Sebestyen proposed the concept of being connected to interacting with life instead their phones. It is believed not only can productivity be boosted by avoiding the trap of mobile devices, but creativity and relationships can be improved as well.

“I accomplished much more than usual though, because I could not check my phone every few minutes,” senior Kathryn Huotari writes.

Junior Cara Betz agrees with Huotari that by not having the distraction so easily accessible, she was able to achieve more.

“I feel like I was focused way more in each of my classes too,” Betz says. “I have made the decision to leave my phone in my backpack from now on at school and only take it out when I absolutely need it. Giving my phone away made me realize a lot of stuff that I am very happy I realized. Better late than never.”

Although there have been days in the past where teachers or authority figures have said to go a day without your phone, how many of the students actually do it without a reward? Ms. Sebestyen had roughly 50 students out of 124 participate in the assignment. However, this same experiment can be carried out any day of the year you may choose.

“Do it for yourself, not the extra credit,” Ms. Sebestyen says.

So how did students feel by the end of the day?

“Over the course of the day, I realized how attached I was to my phone for the simplest things. I didn’t think I was that fixated on my phone. I have assessed that there is a problem, and I need to help myself,” senior Kaitlyn Bloom writes.

“I wish so deeply that I could honestly say that I could go without a phone for longer than a day, but I truthfully do not think I could manage without it.” senior Kathryn Huotari writes.

“At the end of the day, I actually forgot that I never went and picked it back up. Not having my phone for the day made me realize that I don’t need one as much as I thought I do,” Betz writes.

Laura Greene wrote a list of thoughts that she had during the day:


“I have to use a… dictionary?”

*unceasing patting of pockets*

“WHERE IS MY- oh.”

“This class is so boring and I have nothing to do.”

“I swear my phone vibrated, but that’s pretty impossible to feel right now.”



“Not having my phone on me for an entire day made me realize how unimportant looking at Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat really is. I get nothing out of doing it, so what’s the point?” senior Taylor Jacobs writes. “I was actually present for every moment of my day.”

Jacobs admits she would do it again in a heartbeat.

Whether the student enjoyed the activity or loathed it, one variable stays constant; the experience was a learning experience for all involved.
“Life is short. We don’t have a lot of time to wish away,” Ms. Sebestyen says. “Anything can happen in a moment that will completely shift the direction of your life. I worry people are missing out on life.”