Technology timeout: SF teens to take a break from devices 

click to enlarge Students at Convent and Stuart Hall schools are issued iPads to use in class, including this Spanish 2 section. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Mike Koozmin/the s.f. examiner
  • Students at Convent and Stuart Hall schools are issued iPads to use in class, including this Spanish 2 section.

San Francisco teenager Julia-Rose Kibben turned in her math assignment Monday morning at Convent of the Sacred Heart High School as she typically does: via a Google Document on her school-issued iPad.

Come Friday, she will not have that luxury.

That's because the 16-year-old sophomore will be one of hundreds of students on her campus who will pledge to not use technology for three days beginning Thursday. The move is part of the Tech Timeout Academic Challenge, a nationwide initiative that tests a school's ability to avoid the devices that make life more convenient. And although the school has long implemented modern technology in its classrooms, leaders want to make sure students understand the value of unplugging.

Teachers will seal fifth- through 12th-grade students' electronics in a bag — from phones to tablets to laptops — and the kids will have to abide by an honor code to continue avoiding technology into the weekend. Parents have been invited to participate as well.

Convent is part of the tech-savvy Schools of the Sacred Heart, which comprises two elementary and two high schools in one private institution on multiple campuses. Schools of the Sacred Heart will be the first school in the Bay Area to take the challenge and the third in California.

The experiment also comes as Schools of the Sacred Heart for the first time this school year fully implemented the 1-to-1 iPad, or ePack, program that began in 2013. That means more than 700 students in fifth through 12th grade were issued an iPad for their studies.

"We always wanted to think about the balance needed in bringing technology forward," President of Schools Ann Marie Krejcarek said of why they are going tech-free. "We found the challenge a match to some of the strategic objectives we've had since we brought technology to the students."

For years, Schools of the Sacred Heart has strived to increase technology in the classroom. The institution first began supplying tablets to students four years ago, beginning with a pilot initiative at the girls high school, said Howard Levin, director of Educational Innovation and Information Services.

"This ubiquitous access to technology is increasing students' access to information, increasing their ability to collaborate with each other, dramatically increasing their ability to communicate beyond themselves," Levin said.

Students submit homework via their tablets and take quizzes on the devices, making modern technology as prevalent in the classroom as desks. Providing students with their own tablets has even allowed the school to free up two of its three computer labs, which are now used as innovation spaces for students to collaborate on various projects.

But how much technology is too much technology?

Kids 13 to 17 years old send and receive on average more than 3,700 text messages per month, according to a 2011 study by Nielsen Co. A separate study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that on average, 8- to 18-year-olds are connected to some form of electronic media for eight to 12 hours a day.

And that is exactly why school leaders say they are urging students to avoid technology for three days: To step back and understand the role these devices play in their lives.

"In an uncomfortable social situation, [a student] might pull out their phone," Krejcarek said. "The level of dependence on that instrument right now is something that we would like to examine."

Dr. Stephen Karr, director of the San Francisco Institute for Adolescence, said technology is best for kids in a learning environment, as long as they are not plagiarizing the work of others.

"A lot of kids are on computers, it feels like 24/7. That's terrible," Karr said. "A lot of kids are barricaded in their rooms. I have a practice that's loaded with kids who are too saturated in technology. Many of them are in their room too much with the door closed."

Kibben, the student, already knows what life is like without her smartphone. She voluntarily gave up her iPhone last fall after she realized her grades were dropping.

"I was constantly on social media," Kibben recalled. "If my Instagram feed wasn't interesting, I'd just go to Twitter or Facebook. I had 20 different conversations going."

But since switching to a basic cellphone, the teenager said her schoolwork has improved and she actually takes the time to appreciate her tech-free experiences.

"I'm really into street art — I was constantly snapping photos of that," Kibben said. "Now ... I see it and stand there and appreciate it, and keep going."

For three days this week, that is how her classmates will see the world too.

Tech Timeout

Suggestions for opt-out devices (students are not expected to abstain from using all of these):







-Social media

- Email


- Video games

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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