Seventh- and eighth grade students participated in a day-long tech retreat on May 14. This day included a total break from regular classes, and instead students participated in small group activities, heard a panel of speakers from our community, and learned about brain health and screen time.

Students began their day with an extended advisory period to enjoy a yummy breakfast cooked by our own Chef Deb and her kitchen staff (top right). Over breakfast sandwiches, students worked to calculate how much time they spend on screens on any given school day, weekend day, or summer day. This sparked conversation regarding screen time and finding a healthy balance in life.

Each child had his or her own schedule for morning activities, which gave them a chance to work with different groupings than their normal classes. Seventh- and eighth graders were mixed for these activities, and students especially enjoyed the hands-on options that included: taking over Swain’s social media pages, creating videos of Public Service Announcements regarding technology, scenario studies, anti-bullying exercises, designing a tech-related bulletin board, and creating word art (middle, right), after researching the pros and cons of technology.

In between hands-on sessions, students took a break to discuss sexting in gender-based small groups. Every group was led by capable, compassionate faculty members. All groups followed the same lesson plan which included a video regarding the definition of the term ‘sexting,’ what might motivate students to do it, consequences of sexting or sharing sexts, and finally, what to do if you receive one.

After lunch, students heard from a panel of experts who all spoke about digital footprints and the impact your online decisions can have on your future. Panelists included former Dean of Admissions at Muhlenberg College, Chris Hooker-Haring; attorney Kristin Noonan Hutchins (Swain '00), and our Swain counselor, Signe Whitson. Many students were very moved by this discussion, including 7th grader Nora Kenyon, who wrote: “I learned that digital footprints are very crucial in the application process in college. It will help me in the future to make good decisions on what I post.”

To wrap up the day, students heard from Mrs. Whitson about how teenage brains work, how they store memory, and how screens can affect the brain. Students had many takeaway ideas from this presentation, including Amelia Tuerk, who stated: “I learned that looking at a screen at night can screw up your sleep schedule. I’ll probably not go on my phone as late as I do.”

Overall, this experience was a huge success! Students were asked to share feedback after all activities and presentations, and responses were overwhelmingly positive. We will definitely be planning an event like this for future classes, and hope they participate as openly and willingly as our current seventh- and eighth grade students did.