Electronics Get a Time Out on Low-Tech Tuesdays at Orinda Academy

(Laura Turnbull, Photographer)
Orinda Academy students Theo Jacobs and William Garman enjoy a game of Jenga on a 20-minute break between classes.

    On one recent Tuesday morning in the study hall room, an Orinda Academy teacher began challenging students to one-minute elbow planks while a boisterous Jenga game played out on a nearby table.
    The music teacher led an origami group, and the school’s learning specialist sat in a circle with students interested in tarot reading and horoscopes. Card and chess games formed quickly, and several students headed outside for basketball and ping pong. For an entire 20 minutes, nobody in the room looked at a smartphone.
    Orinda Academy’s students and staff were introduced to a new weekly schedule component beginning second semester: Low-Tech Tuesdays. The administrative team and faculty created this once-a-week activity period, taking advantage of a morning break to encourage students to take a brief break from technology.
    During the exercise, everyone in the school community is encouraged to set aside electronic devices – smartphones, laptops, tablets, and even smart watches – and take time to do something fun and low tech.
    “It’s just 20 minutes, and we’re not forcing anyone to comply,” says Sue Porter, head of school. “Low-Tech Tuesday is more of an invitation. We model low-tech behavior and offer lots of fun alternatives. We’re making this low-tech opportunity as inviting as we can. It’s like recess – for teenagers.”
    “The laughter is the best part,” says Mollie Mowat, assistant head of school. “It’s loud, for sure, but it’s really great noise. Kids are de-stressing and they don’t even know it.”
    Junior Maddie agrees. “I feel like I can put my phone away without any issues, probably more than most people my age. But it’s really nice just to have this time when there are lots of other things for everyone to do without our phones. We’re actually making eye contact and talking to each other — no YouTube or SnapChat, just us.”
    “High school students use tech all day long,” explains science and math teacher Vicky Guarracino. “We restrict it in classrooms, but from what we’ve observed, the addiction is real. It’s just nice to offer kids a social interaction opportunity that doesn’t involve staring at a screen.”

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