Belfast Area High School students handed over their cell phones April 10 and took part in an event, "#unplugged," aimed at discovering if there is a link between anxiety and cell phone use.

Survey coordinator Fran Conlon is a certified nursing assistant teacher at Waldo County Technical Center and also a registered nursing student at the University of Maine, Augusta. As part of a community health awareness assignment, she designed a survey to collect data about cell phone use in the high school.

She said the high school has just under 500 students, and 89 students and faculty took part in the #unplugged event, which asked participants to turn in their cell phones for the day.

Of those 89, 49 people took a post-survey questionnaire dealing with what they encountered throughout the day without their phones. Three students did not complete the day and asked for their cell phones back, saying "they could not do it anymore," Conlon said.

Health and physical education teacher Jennifer Littlefield said, "Four hundred students walked by us that morning and refused to participate…. A lot said no way, too hard, they're not giving up their phone, concerned if it would be kept in safe location."

Vice Principal Colden Golann, Resource Officer Deputy Rick Smith and school nurse Emily Wesson said they have all seen, firsthand, anxiety, disruption in the classroom over content on their cell phones, sleeplessness and bullying they attribute to overuse.

Detective Smith said, "I rarely see anyone not looking down at their phone at lunch. It's like an uncontrollable response and it is becoming habit-forming."

Littlefield said she was excited to take part in the school survey and said "it has been an issue" brought up before to the school administration.

"It's impacted my class," Littlefield said. She and other teachers have found that cell phones have negatively affected their classes; students are distracted and dependent on their cell phones.

"Most teachers, including myself, don't allow them during academic times," she said. "However, students still try to sneak them. Some students refuse to put it away because their parents may be texting them and they may miss something.

"But also, because our students have grown up with cell phones their whole life, they are reliant on them all the time. They use them constantly. Sometimes they even text their friends who are sitting right beside them.

"They are using them at home, before bed, staying up later, on social media or playing games, which is affecting their sleep (which then affects their ability to focus and concentrate the next day)."

Littlefield took the #unplugged challenge herself and admitted it was a little difficult as a mother "with a child in preschool," not to have a way to be connected. She said she felt "a little addicted" to her cell phone as well, and strives to be more aware at home in the evening by "putting it away as much as possible."

Freshman Reagan Seekins said it was harder than she thought it would be. The good thing was "I was more engaged in classes. It was good for me to do that," she said.

Freshman Rico Washington said he always has his phone in his pocket, and during #unplugged, he would reach down and wonder where he had left it.

"I reached for my headphones to plug into my phone and thought it was lost for a second," he said.

The only place Social Studies teacher Molly Ross missed her phone was at lunch. "It was my son's birthday today," she said.

By the end of the event, she said she missed only one text and felt, as a teacher, that "the kids were tweaked" without their phones.

Russian exchange student Ksenia Evdokimova said she was "totally fine" without her phone and said she mostly just uses it to call her parents.

Principal Jeff Lovejoy, Vice Principal Golann Coland and several members of the faculty also participated in the survey. Some comments heard from faculty:

"It was fine; I just didn't have a watch."

"It was a little hard for me; I usually check my calendar."

Conlon said she felt if students gave up their phones voluntarily, and teachers stored them in a safe location, perhaps a shoe organizer located on the classroom door, "they would be successful and have less anxiety."

Based on the results, Conlon said, even though some felt frustrated during down times, 60 percent agreed to participate in another #unplugged day.

School administration will hold a pizza party for highest homeroom participation and students will also be entered to receive Dunkin' Donuts raffle tickets for participating in the #unplugged event.

According to the post-survey questionnaire, the hardest part of the day without a cell phone for students was at lunch (51 percent), followed by study hall (35 percent).

Most students (57 percent) said not having a cell phone did not bother them, and 21 percent felt "relieved about not having constant interruptions."

Three-quarters of the participants said not having a cell phone "nudged them to have more face-to-face conversations," and 71 percent felt no anxiety about not having their cell phones.