Taking time to unplug

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MFL MarMac students have been enjoying “unplugged time” during the first 10 minutes of their daily study hall. During this time, students put away electronic devices and homework, in exchange for books, drawing or journaling. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Hailey Rosa peruses the “Board of Books” located in teacher Megan Schellhorn’s classroom.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

MFL MarMac High School moved its daily study hall from the end of the day to second hour this year, and also extended the period another 10 minutes. So far, said principal Larry Meyer, students are using the time more productively to complete homework and study for tests. They’re also taking time out of their busy lives to reflect.

The first 10 minutes of the period are designated as “unplugged time.” Students put away their cellphones, laptop computers and course materials, instead reaching for a book to read, a blank page to draw on or notebook in which to journal their thoughts.

The idea for unplugged time came about last year. During a school board meeting presentation, middle school teacher Stephanie Jones discussed how she was utilizing what she’d learned in her personalized professional development time to engage her students in reading. MFL MarMac’s teacher-librarian, Melissa Haberichter, was inspired by Jones’ efforts.

“I thought, ‘We have this whole group of readers coming up from the middle school. I don’t want to lose them when they get to high school,’” she explained. “I wanted to make sure that carried over.”

Unfortunately, the high school schedule—as it was—left little time for free reading. Unplugged time has changed that.

When the concept was first proposed, high school social studies teacher Megan Schellhorn said she was excited.

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to unwind and continue their reading,” she remarked. “I  also have an opportunity to read that I didn’t have before.”

Freshman Gabe McGeough described unplugged time as his “detoxification for the day.”

“It helps me not think about what’s going on the rest of the day,” he explained. Through reading, “I can just get involved in someone else’s life.”

Hailey Rosa, also a freshman, said she enjoys reading and would have continued the hobby in high school. Unplugged time simply gives her another opportunity to indulge in it.

“Now, there’s more of a relaxing time to really read,” she said.

Most students don’t worry it’s interfering with their study hall time.

“With how long study hall is, 10 minutes isn’t much,” shared freshman Chauncey Drahn.

Haberichter said the success of unplugged time has been felt in the library, where circulation has spiked.

“I’ve never talked about books so much with kids,” she said. “I’m using their recommendations.”

She noted some of the popular genres include sci-fi (akin to the “Hunger Games” series), realistic fiction and historical fiction, particularly focusing on World War II. Students are also returning to childhood favorites like “Where the Red Fern Grows.”

McGeough said he’s drawn more to motivational books, while Drahn seeks out adventures and stories that make him think. Rosa is a Stephen King fan and is currently reading “It.”

In her classroom, Schellhorn tapped into the excitement by working with students to create a “Board of Books.” Students post photos of the books they’ve read on this bulletin board, then rate them as “leave it,” “like it” or “love it.” 

“Students from other classes check out the board too,” Schellhorn said.

Haberichter is happy to see that not only students, but teachers, are reading more. They’re having conversations they wouldn’t otherwise have.

“Over time, this culture of reading takes hold,” she said. “And that not only makes you smarter. It also makes you kinder and more aware.”

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