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Roanoke City public schools roll out new “Screen Smart” program for digital wellness

Published: Oct. 13, 2020 at 5:45 AM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - Roanoke City Public Schools is partnering with the Virginia Cooperative Extension to increase digital wellness among its students.

Rachel Burks, the family & consumer sciences SNAP education agent for VCE in Roanoke, defines digital wellness as finding the balance between using screens as tools and as entertainment.

The unprecedented nature of the 20-21 academic year means more students are spending time using technology.

“It has really allowed us to continue doing the things we need to do in life," Burks said. "We need to continue learning; we need to continue working; we need to continue connecting with people.”

However, she also recognized the dangers that come with too much time spent in front of a screen.

“Increased screen use is definitely not great for our physical, emotional and social well-being," she explained.

So the VCE and Roanoke City Public Schools are launching a new “Screen Smart” program this week to address this need. The initiative is designed to educate students on how to take their digital health into their own hands.

“We are looking to use this program to encourage healthy relationships with screens," Burks said.

“Our superintendent thought it was a great idea, especially when you consider that a majority of our students are participating in virtual learning for the first quarter," Justin McLeod, director of marketing and public relations for RCPS, said.

In the coming weeks, city school educators and families will be provided with tips and resources to help break up students' time on devices.

“We’re primarily going to be focusing on getting the information out through our health and physical education classes," McLeod said.

But some additional information will also be provided to principals and teachers.

Burks explained this is not meant to be one more dreaded assignment parents feel obligated to do with their kids. Rather, it’s a fun and flexible way to simply encourage kids to evaluate their screen use.

“To think about how it makes them feel when they use a screen, when they take breaks," Burks said. "And to think about, what are other ways that they can engage with each other, with their world in this strange time and into the future, that doesn’t necessarily involve a screen.”

“I think a lot of our parents think that their children have to be in front of the screen six hours a day," McLeod said. "And what we like about this program, it says it’s okay to take a break.”

In fact, the new “Screen Smart" program encourages breaks through out the day.

“We call them movement breaks," McLeod explained. "Those are popular when students are in school and they can be done at home too.”

Movement breaks are one of two strategies in the program to get students away from their devices.

“We are recommending, as well as the science supports this, that students as well as teachers and anybody who is working on a screen, take a movement break at least once every hour," Burks said.

These breaks don’t have to be long; just 3-5 minutes of stretching, walking or stepping into a different room to connect face-to-face with someone.

“It can support your physical health, as well as for students, maintaining that focus and attention in the classroom," Burks said.

The second strategy is taking elongated breaks from screens by cutting back on screen use for entertainment.

“Our minds need connection out in the world, with our environments," Burks said.

It’s recommended that everyone spend no more than two hours a day using a screen for entertainment.

“We need to be creative,” Burks explained. "And if you’re on a screen for work and for pleasure, it’s really hard to give your mind that space that it needs.”

Instead of spending time on devices, there are lots of activities the VCE and Roanoke City Public Schools are encouraging parents to do with their kids.

One of the harder challenges for families to try is “Screen-Free Saturdays.” No phones, no computers, no TV for 24 hours. And if that seems daunting, try taking it in baby steps. Start the family off by going four hours without screens and then slowly increase it every Saturday.

McLeod hopes this is something parents are willing to do with their kids, because their participation will determine the success of the program for their family.

Copyright 2020 WDBJ. All rights reserved.

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