Chugiak High to show free documentary on teens, screens

Wednesday, December 13, 2017 - 12:19

When was the last time you checked your phone? If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re doing it right now — more than 60 percent of Star readers now get their news from a mobile device; if not, it’s likely you looked at the device in the last hour — studies show Americans check their devices dozens to hundreds of times per day.

The use of screened devices has become ingrained in modern society, and that’s especially true among teens, who according to the Pew Research Center send an average 30 text messages a day.

All this usage can create big problems for educators, who have to balance the changing needs of tech-savvy students with a need to maintain focus and discipline in the classroom.

“A lot of it is behavior and distraction, and one of the biggest distraction issues is cell phones,” said Chugiak High principal Megan Hatswell.

Hatswell recently decided to allocate $650 to purchase the rights to the film “Screenagers: Growing up in the Digital Age,” a 2016 documentary by filmmaker Delaney Ruston. Ruston is a physician, filmmaker and mother who created the documentary after seeing the impact screens were having on her two children.

According to a synopsis of the film posted on its website (, Ruston began to think about the consequences of living such connected lives.

“She wondered about the impact of all this time and about the friction occurring in homes and schools about negotiating screen time — friction she knew all too well,” reads the synopsis.

Chugiak is teaming up with nearby Mirror Lake Middle School, Birchwood ABC, Homestead Elementary, Fire Lake Elementary and Ravenwood Elementary to present the screening, which is open to the public. Hatswell said the school’s newly created Implementing Consistent Expectations (ICE) team has been discussing ways to create better cell phone policies at Chugiak. One way to do that, she said, is to help students and teachers better understand the issues involved with cell phone use and overuse.

“It’s not going away, and we need to harness and use it appropriately,” she said.

Hatswell said cell phones make bullying easier, can facilitate cheating and allow students to share inappropriate material such as naked pictures of themselves or others — which can often be a crime. Additionally, students are becoming more anxious in class, she said, with studies showing most are unable to focus for more than 15 minutes without worrying about checking their devices.

This creates a situation where children aren’t able to focus on just one thing, which compromises their ability to learn.

“Their brains are getting conditioned where they feel they’re multitasking and getting more done, but in reality your brain can’t handle that,” she said.

Offering a free community showing of the documentary is one way Chugiak can help spread awareness of the role devices play in students’ lives.

“We thought it was a big enough issue that we wanted to be able to offer the opportunity to everyone,” she said.

The Eagle River High Parent-Teacher Organization held a viewing of the film earlier this year for ERHS students and teachers — a screening Hatswell said got rave reviews.

“Everything I heard about it was positive,” she said.

The free community screening will be held at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 30 at the Steve Primis Auditorium at Chugiak High.

Hatswell said CHS freshmen and sophomores will watch the film during school Friday while juniors and seniors participate in a financial reality and career planning event. Hatswell said the event will feature a number of businesspeople from the community, as well as teachers and counselors to help students with things like filling out financial aid paperwork and writing an effective college entrance essay. Hatswell said the event will be supported by volunteers — many of whom have children at Chugiak.

“Luckily for us we have a lot of parents who are involved,” she said.

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