Every other day, during third lunch period, I am found standing at the sanitizing station, welcoming students into a cafeteria with rows of small tables positioned six feet apart. The station has wipes, hand santizier, and the start to the line which is really just stickers on the floor. Students, then, face a big decision. To sanitize the table they want and risk not getting the lunch they want or guaranteeing the lunch but losing out on their table of choice.
Two major groups are in my scheduled lunch. And they approach the dilemma differently. One group simply chooses the food; they spend lunch on their phones. The group of ninth graders choose their tables first. It is important to sit within the sunny section and next to certain people. Being outside the square of tables means it is hard to have a conversation. Being outside that section sends students directly to their phone.
At first, I walked around the cafe in quite a bit of judgement: will they ever break up with their phones? Are they rotting their brains? How do they make friends? I should police the phones, take them away. Make them talk to one another.
Instead of assuming the worst (which is exactly what I was doing), I asked them about their phone use during lunch. Here is what they were doing:
A group of teens were playing a game with some of their friends who were assigned to a different room for lunch. They were connecting with their friends who could not be with them.
A few more friends, who are skiers, were sharing skiing videos, and getting excited about the snow that was coming.
One teen was FaceTiming with her friend, who was at home, and giving her an update on the who-said-what.
In short, they were connecting. Not in the way I did when I was in high school. But they were "together". They were supporting one another during the only break in their school day, talking, laughing, and strategizing together. This online life is part of their reality.
I know that policing it is still important and in class, I am clear: nothing outside the classroom is as fun or important as the learning inside the classroom. While they don't believe me and I don't usually believe myself either, it is a clear expectation.
During lunch, students are able to connect by disconnecting with the world around them. They go into a world that is online and their friends are with them. Together they navigate the stresses of this online world. We don't have to police it and try to remove it but support their adventure.