By Charles Crown
The 2023-2024 school year is back in full swing at the Baltimore School for the Arts and with it the administration has reintroduced strict rules on personal devices.
This reintroduction provides a great opportunity to see how students and teachers felt about these stricter rules, specifically when it comes to student usage of headphones during school hours.
Less than a week before school started, pictures of BSA’s Student Code of Conduct taped to the walls emerged on social media.
The handbook states “Cell phones/smart phones/Airpods/headphones are not allowed to be used in the classroom or studio spaces unless expressly permitted by the supervising teacher.”
As these images spread to a greater mass of the student body, there seemed to be a sudden spike of stress and confusion that bled into the first couple weeks of school.
These days you would be hard-pressed to walk into a high school and college campus and find students without headphones.
And it is no different in the halls of BSA, whether the students like to have music to focus on studying or just for background music as they find the way to their next class. This can prove to be taxing as students usually find themselves navigating all eight floors of the building.
It is no lie that the use of headphones during class time has always been a point of contention amongst students and faculty.
This can be seen every day in the teachers at BSA who have a strong opposition to headphones and the students who sit around with one airpod in wondering why they are being told to put it away.
Music is used specifically in a school environment for a variety of reasons, whether it be for focus on the five page packet in front of them, or a moment of escape from the weekly rundown of the syllabus.
Especially at an arts school, music can put students into the creative mindset and help those innovative thoughts flow during arts periods.
No matter what department you are in, music has some influence on the way you produce art, which is why the stricter rule had such backlash from the student body.
“Music helps me get through a day, however it hasn’t had the effect on me that it has on other students. In theater, it just helps me get in the right mood and get in the mindset of whatever character I am playing,” said senior actor and theater department student government representative Landon Black.
Black also touched on the differences in headphone rules throughout his time at the school when he said, “Freshman year we were all on Zoom, and we still weren’t allowed to have music. Compared to previous years, the rules haven’t drastically changed, this year more people just adhere to the rule.”
In the years trickling out of the end of virtual school, the same old headphone rules still stood firm in fine print staring right back at any student who took the time to read it. But one of the lingering effects of quarantine was less pushback on headphones in the classroom.
Teachers may have told students once or twice to put headphones away, but after that didn’t take the time to call a student out if they noticed headphones on.
Nonetheless, the days of COVID and Zoom are in the past and the guidelines are back to being fully enforced.
Thomas Ventimiglia, a Film and English teacher at the school, said, “We shouldn’t feel free to just check out, we are in this place to learn from each other, to be around each other and to listen to each other. Music can often get in the way of that. We need to have self-discipline. I don’t believe we should have a cell phone rule, but instead a cell phone culture.”
While other teachers held similar views to Mr. Ventimiglia, there were some nuanced differences present when I spoke to others, such as Social Studies teacher Megan Bremer.
Bremer shared, “I think it helps students settle into their work better, I mean I’ve always been resistant to it. Being able to disconnect for a little bit can actually be a healthy thing, ideally students should use music to settle into class and focus, and then turn it off.”
An article from Eric Institute of Educational Sciences remarks that most students use music in school to manipulate their emotions.
More specifically, it can help them relax and focus more on the task at hand. It is even used for deeper personal reasons such as dealing with emotional conflicts or boosting self esteem.
“In a recent national essay competition, two-thirds of the students said they listened to or performed music for personal enjoyment, expression, and to release or control negative emotions. They agreed that relating to the lyrics let them know they were not alone, and helped them cope with difficult times in their lives. Students claimed that musical study helped them hone their study skills, which applied to other academic areas.” (Lee, 4)
This study took information that was conducted by schools on how students respond to music in an academic setting. Several BSA students shared their experiences and opinions on how music has a similar effect on them day to day.
Sophomore Visual Artist Lotus Pryor said, “I think a lot of students use music as an escape, I mean a lot happens in school and it’s easy to get stressed at times, so music can be a way to help calm down. As a visual artist, music inspires me a lot. It gives me a lot of different feelings and I express those feelings in my artwork.”
Many of the interviewed students had similar perspectives, such as Sophomore Stage Design and Production student Ethan Rosenberg, who described how music helps him in his creative process: “When I’m in the scene shop designing a set, I like to have music playing, especially jazz. I love the way the melodies flow and having that sort of background music puts me in the mood to work.”
While music in school does present a number of benefits, it is still important to recognize how it can be harmful. Music can do so many things for students and guide them on their own separate academic journeys but it is important to be careful and make sure the privilege isn’t abused.
At the end of the day, having headphones in school boils down to how much self discipline students have. It is a matter of how well students navigate the use of personal devices in a school environment that decides the true impact it can have.
Music is undoubtedly an incredible thing that has such a powerful impact on the way we live our lives and it has such a major influence on brain chemistry.
But as far as school goes, it is ultimately up to the student to have self control, and the teacher to have flexibility.
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Featured image shot by Asad Ali of Brannon Kerr