- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 26, 2012

D.C.-area students are swapping their bathing suits for books as they head back to school. But unlike some toys and games left at home after helping to pass the lazy days, a growing number of electronic gadgets are being allowed in the classroom.

Smartphones, digital notebooks, iPads and iPods — once considered a distraction during classes, are being seen in a different way thanks to creative educators.

In Fairfax County, a Bring Your Own Device pilot program is set to begin its second year in the school system, and officials said they expect even more schools to join the 79 already participating in it.

School spokesman John Torre said at one time students were told to turn off their gadgets or stow them away, but now “parents are encouraged to allow their students to bring in personally owned laptops, netbooks, tablets and smartphones for instructional use in the classroom.”

“BYOD supports increased access to digital resources including online textbooks and other instructional programs when deemed appropriate by instructors,” Mr. Torre said. “Technology is a part of every student’s life and this is a new way to extend the learning environment.”

Arlington students abide by a similar set of rules, said spokesman Frank Bellavia.

“Kids are allowed to bring their cellphones to school, but if they’re using it to text, or as a disruption, we don’t want that,” Mr. Bellavia said. “If they’re using it for legitimate school work or research, certainly we’re fine with that. Kids are going to have their cellphones anyway.”

Some Arlington elementary schools, such as Jamestown Elementary School, use iPads in classrooms, including those for special needs students.

“They learn to write their names, colors and shapes on the iPads,” Mr. Bellavia said. “The program has had great success.”

The Arlington school district has also noticed “Facebook is becoming a tool a lot of teachers are using to communicate with students,” Mr. Bellavia said, and so a first-time social media policy is in place that “specifies guidelines and makes sure kids’ parents know there is communication with teachers.”

A spokesman for Prince George’s County Public Schools said some of their classrooms also use iPads for instructional use and cellphones are permitted but “only for instructional use.”

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson told WTOP Radio (FM 103.5) that cellphones and gadgets are allowed in some classrooms.

“It just depends on whether or not our teachers are actually using the devices as instructional tools,” she said.

Montgomery County Public Schools recently decided that high school students could use cellphones during lunchtime after a two-year field test that determined that using cellphones at lunch “does not adversely impact the educational environment.”

Other electronic gizmos can be brought to middle and high schools, but they must be “turned off and out of sight during times of unauthorized use.”

Elementary school students in Montgomery County are not allowed to bring cellphones or other digital devices to class unless a written request from a parent or guardian is approved by the school principal.

According to the Alexandria City Public Schools student handbook, students must have all communication devices shut off during the school day.

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