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PAA Students Lock Up their Screens for a Media Fast

Students were invited to pull out their phones during chapel. They were shown how to look in their settings to conduct a self-audit of their smartphone use.

Portland Adventist Academy Media & Persuasion students are asking tough questions about how screens are shaping their generation and how they can be different.

As digital natives, most teenagers don’t know a life without convenience and entertainment at their fingertips. But to examine their media habits, the M&P students, all seniors, chose to fast from screen-media for four-days. They named their Project Based Learning (PBL) assignment “PAA Unplugged.” More than 40 students and staff participated.

The PBL assignment began with researching the pros and cons of media; they paid special attention to the problems of over consuming media. Students conducted personal screen-media audits to assess their habits. Later, they collaboratively designed the guidelines and rules around PAA Unplugged.

There were many problems to be solved but the students embraced the challenges.

Media & Persuasion teacher, Mr. Kootsey served as the PBL guide as his students worked to solve the problems they’d face without the convenience of screens.

Sean Kootsey, PAA Media & Persuasion teacher, was impressed by their careful and creative planning. “Our media fast had a far-reaching effect not only on these students, but on parents, on us as teachers, and the entire PAA community,” said Kootsey. Teachers supported the fast by accommodating students not able to use email or computers. Parents and siblings served as alarm clocks and messengers. Non-fasting friends and family agreed to keep their phones out of view.

“The hardest part for me was planning on how to get home after school,” said senior Shaianne Willis-Brown. “I had to communicate through my sister for rides home.”

While logistics were cumbersome, planning was revealing. Leading up to the fast, a self-audit showed that the collective average of time spent on screen-media was eight hours per day on non-school related media use; that’s just one hour less than the national average.

Why does this matter? Recent and alarming research finds that more than any generation previous, today’s teens are experiencing severe anxiety, depression, and addictions directly related to their screen consumption.

In a special chapel to promote PAA Unplugged, Emma MacLachlan shared that she let go of social media more than five months ago. She says she feels better and encourages more students to try it.

“There are endless studies, documentaries, and experts that discuss and analyze media exposure and usage and its effects on us,” says Kootsey, who is proud of his students for taking the PBL to a deeper level. “They could have simply removed screens for the ‘shock value.’ But they focused on ‘filling the void’ by proactively planning positive things to replace screen-time and by bringing awareness to the issue as leaders in our PAA community.” (See below for a list of research items our students studied!)

Shaianne Willis-Brown (left) reunites with her phone and admits she loved PAA Unplugged and plans to do it again on her own. “I loved feeling free of distractions in my life. It gave me free time to do things I usually couldn’t do, like read. I also loved being with my boyfriend without our phones. Our conversations were more special than usual.”

Kootsey believes that Adventist education has something unique to offer. “In The Message Bible,” adds Kootsey, “Romans 12, verses one and two says each of us are challenged to not ‘become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead,

[to] fix your attention on God.’ Our school exists to provide experiences that build Christ-centered and character-driven young people.”

PAA Unplugged is one of those experiences. “I loved the fast and I want to do it again, even by myself,” says Willis-Brown. “I loved feeling free of distractions in my life.”

“One of the greatest benefits I found was how much easier it was to fall asleep at night because my brain had already had time to process my day,” said PAA Bible teacher, Pastor Steve Lemke. “I’ll definitely be doing this again.”

Most Sabbaths, PAA Spanish teacher Rita Barrett fasts from all media. But participating in PAA Unplugged for four straight days helped her see her need for better media boundaries. “I do like to see what other teachers are doing [on social media], but I need to spend less time reading about their successes and enjoy the successful relationship I am building with my own students through the Spanish language.”

Even in a time without screens, Jesus showed us the value of unplugging. He retreated from the crowds and His work to refocus and recharge. “It is my hope,” says Kootsey, “that the contrast of these four days helped each of us to assess what we are focused on.”


Find out how “addicted” you are to your favorite apps. Click HERE to learn to audit yourself.

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