An independent, coeducational PK-Grade 12 private school located in historic Fredericksburg, Virginia

Learning Together Blog

Technology Part III - Phone Use Among Teens
Head of Middle and Upper Schools Tony Durso

All gas, no brakes, holding the keys to a Lamborghini.

While an exaggerated oversimplification of what it means to be a teenager with a smartphone, that image is a good one to keep in mind when helping your child manage his or her phone use. With digital footprints lasting essentially forever, colleges and employers increasingly monitoring profiles and activity, and the likelihood of making a mistake or four, today's youth face the daunting challenge of having to be mature and responsible before they are, well, mature and responsible.

Curious, needing to work efficiently, holding the keys to the Library of Congress.

Neither an exaggeration nor oversimplification, that image is another good one to keep in mind. Whether databases or Google Scholar, today's online resources put the libraries of not just the United States but the entire world at students' fingertips. Moreover, group chats empower students to collaborate anywhere and anytime – it's class discussion in the palm of their hands.

Either way, when deciding what guidance to provide, it is important for parents and guardians to see that iPhone or Galaxy as the double-edged sword it is. Unrestricted, unlimited, and unmonitored access will cause problems, but so too will no access.

Cognizant of those bookends, parents and guardians have to find the balance that is right for their child. Whatever the balance, though, communication is essential. Sharing understanding of the power and pitfalls allows a family to set meaningful expectations. (If you want to make those expectations more formal, try this contract.)

FA's "contract" is the annually read, discussed, and signed Acceptable Use and Internet Safety Policy or AUISP, which details approved phone uses and outlines and warns against unapproved ones. Beyond the AUISP, our overall approach provides for highly limited access in the Middle School to increasingly open access in the Upper School.

We are mindful of the potential impact of too much screen time, but we concluded years ago that it's better to help students learn to navigate what has become a flood than to pretend the flood doesn't exist. At the same time, we concluded more years ago that getting students involved in curricular and extra-curricular activities is the best antidote to isolation, whether it's technology-induced or not.

So, if you are picking your 7th-grade daughter up at 5:45 p.m. after a day of classes (during which she was not allowed to use her phone) followed by practice or rehearsal (during which she was not allowed to use her phone) and she is headed home to dinner around the kitchen table (during which she will not be allowed to use her phone) followed by an hour or two of homework, rest assured that twenty minutes in a group chat followed by some (not actually funny) cat videos is no cause for alarm.

As the parents of three – the youngest with no phone but access to an iPad, the middle only recently acquiring ownership of an iPhone, and the eldest with two years handling experience – Maria and I have found that, as annoying as it may be, there simply is no substitute for constant monitoring, frequent reminders, and occasional confiscations. Otherwise, we follow only one hard and fast rule: no phones at the dinner table.

Technology Part II
Head of Lower School Patty Estes

Last minute ordering, gift wrapping, baking, recipes to prepare, decorating, parties, clean-up; the holidays can be overwhelming. The children help for a while and then seem to create more work. What to do? Offer them tech time? Hand them your phone? Hold on just a minute...hit pause...

We are all trying to keep up with the rapid development of technological tools and gadgets and the most effective use of their capabilities in our homes and here at school in our classrooms. As educators, we know we have unending opportunities to expand the learning in every classroom because of the technology available to us. At the same time, we know we should be creating boundaries and limits for our youngest learners.

The technology used in the Lower School is seen as a tool to inform and support student learning. Rather than a pencil, we view it as a highlighter that can expand or brighten students' understanding. Technology is incorporated at each level to provide a rich and relevant classroom environment. It is priceless when facilitating project-based and collaborative learning. It provides global perspectives and promotes interdisciplinary thinking. We are fortunate to have it at the children's fingertips.

But what about the boundaries? We know, from years and years of research and study of social learning, that children learn best from a human. Social scaffolding is critical to any learning. We know that children become better readers and most importantly, comprehenders, not through reading alone, but by reading with others, the coaching of the teacher, and the discussion that follows. We know that a guide by the side when exploring science, music, or art expands the experience. And so we are finding that technology is most effective in terms of learning and the transfer of knowledge when there is social scaffolding and proactive and intentional monitoring of its use.

What might this all mean for you at home? There are consistent recommendations for families from reputable sources. Please consider the following:

  • Personal interactions and time in conversation should far exceed screen time. Encourage face-to-face time with family AND friends!
  • Long-term happiness and health depends on limits and boundaries. Monitor use by placing technology in a public place in your home. Do not allow screens in your child's bedroom at bedtime or overnight. Hit the "Off" tab often.
  • Utilize parental controls for the apps your child uses to their fullest measure.
  • Be aware of direct messaging functions. Insist your child message only people you know.
  • Set privacy settings to "Private". Many apps require a user to be at least 13 years old. Follow these guidelines.
  • Make knowing your child's passwords to any app a condition of them having or using a device.
  • Occasionally sit with your child and check online activity with him/her.
  • Model healthy device use.
  • Teach your child to tell you or a trusted adult if something they encounter online does not look or feel right.

Technology, used appropriately as a child grows, will foster creativity and a child's imagination, and acquisition of skills. Taken to an extreme it can do more harm than good. As with everything we guide our children in, moderation is key.

Technology Part I
Head of School Karen Moschetto

I am bombarded on a weekly basis with articles about screen time, technology, and the effects of each on the health and wellness of children. As I watch my nieces easily navigate cell phones and IPads and ask about watching videos on YouTube, I cannot help but think about how differently I grew up. I remember when, as a family, we got our first VHS player and an Atari game system. Our television had 3 major network stations, PBS, and a few local channels, and our phone was located in the kitchen with a cord that was long enough for me to hide in a nearby closet or down the basement steps to have a private conversation. There are just so many options for children now that it is a true balancing act for parents as they try to embrace all the positive aspects of technology while also protecting against unintended, potentially harmful, consequences.

There are two questions that I get asked most, "when should I give my child a cell phone," and "at what age should students be allowed to have a social media account." I would ask that you consider these factors when making those decisions:

When Should I Give my Child a Cell Phone?

  • Why does your child need a cell phone? What are your family circumstances that would require them to need one?
  • How old is your child? (Most recommendations are that students between the ages of 11-13 are ready for the responsibility)
  • What rules will you have in place for the phone (screen time, when it can be used, etc.)?
  • How will you monitor the phone use?
  • Be prepared to model good cell phone use as a parent (no phones at meals, no phone use while driving, etc.)

When parents tell me they want their child to have a phone because of sports and other after school activities, I totally understand this and can appreciate the need for a student to have a way to communicate. I do, however, encourage them to look at options other than a smart phone. Consider investing in a cell phone or track phone that allows them to make calls but does not give open access to the internet and let them work up to having a phone that has more capabilities.

At What Age Should Students be Allowed to Have a Social Media Account?

  • What are the age requirements for a child using the social media site? I do not recommend allowing a student to lie about their age in order to get an account.
  • What type of safety parameters will be on the account? Teach your children about privacy settings and how to set them.
  • How will you monitor their use of these sites?
  • Define and agree to rules about friending, following, or accepting invitations.
  • Model appropriate behavior on these sites; sit with your child and share your own pages on social media and show them what creating a positive digital footprint looks like. Be respectful of a child's wishes to not have their picture posted on your page (and do your best to not embarrass them!).

The research on social media and teen health and well-being is alarming. I talk with more and more adults who discuss that social media for them is depressing. There is a sense that as you are looking at "friends'" old posts, you start to feel that your own life is not exciting enough or inadequate in some way. Imagine, as a teen or tween, seeing your friends doing things that you weren't aware of or invited to. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a real difficulty for children to handle. With so many students armed with cell phones, and thus cameras, every outing with friends is an opportunity for pictures to be taken and ultimately posted online, possibly without the consent of others in the photo. The pressure that this places on students is causing a real epidemic of teen depression and anxiety.

As adults, we are better equipped to deal with the emotional effects of social media. Our teens and tweens are still questioning their place in this world and truly need guidance navigating these issues. I hope you will take time to read this article as it provides important information and conversation starters for you and your child.


Eighth grade anticipates big transition
Henry Millar '20


The Upper School at Fredericksburg Academy is a wonderful place, but there's no arguing that there's a huge change from Middle to Upper School. Current eighth-graders – our rising freshmen – definitely have this change on their minds. Their sense of anticipation is familiar to everyone who has made the official transition between buildings.

"[Upper school] is a huge thing to step into from Middle School," eighth-grader Nina Zarin said. "But with the opportunities to explore the high school as an eighth-grader, each student can see the Upper School for themselves. This helps the students form their own opinions about the high school."

One of the focuses of FA administration over the past few years has been strengthening connections among the different divisions of the school. In February, the eighth grade class shared the experience of recreating Shakespeare's Macbeth in the form of a movie in groups with the current sophomores. This was not only a creative academic project, but was also a way to introduce the eighth grade to people and traditions in the Upper School.

"Originally we were kind of scared by the idea of the Upper School. But the school tried to do as much as possible to connect us with the Upper Schoolers," said Christopher Sniffin. "We even made our own friends in the Upper School through things like Shakespearience."

Through cross-division events such as the Perch, FAFA Fest, and sporting activities, eighth-graders begin to get an idea of what high school at FA might be like for them. As expected, the middle-schoolers have some anxiety about the big transition, but they are also excited for the many opportunities and freedoms offered to them in the Upper School.


Fredericksburg Academy is a PK-Grade 12 coeducational, independent, private school in Fredericksburg, VA. FA is regarded as a top private middle school in Fredericksburg, a top private middle school in Stafford, and a top private middle school in Spotsylvania. It is recognized a top private high school in Fredericksburg, a top private high school in Stafford, and a top private high school in Spotsylvania.


A Man and his Trumpet: Worlds Colliding
Mirinda Reynolds

I am an artist and an educator, and I get to be both at Fredericksburg Academy. I bring these worlds together for my fourth and fifth grade students by inviting artists to visit school to share their unique styles and techniques to give my upper-level students a real-world experience.

In honor of our visiting artists and Black History Month, my fourth and fifth grade students created a 63-canvas panel picture of iconic musician Louis Armstrong with his trumpet. I came up with the idea in fall 2016 with guest artist Angela Maniece, and we added Armstrong's name hidden in pictures of his life at the bottom of the image.

For six months, both in and out of art classes, the fourth and fifth grade students cut over 4,000 pieces of 21 different patterns of fabric and glued pieces that coordinated with each individual square. The pieces were then joined on a large table. In January, we moved it to the wall and finished adjustments. On February 23, our fabric mosaic mural was permanently installed in the music hallway. I believe we created a near perfect marriage of music and art, but in order to do so, my students used mathematics extensively in their planning and design and delved deeply into history and social studies by celebrating Black History month through the concept development phase.

The market value for the Louis Armstrong mural is $7,500. To me and the students who created it, however, it is priceless.