On Valentine’s Day, Renaissance at Rand Middle School staff and students tried something new – unplugging from technology.

Instead of opening up their Chromebooks, students played vocabulary bingo and matching games translating English words into other languages, wrote journal entries about historical events and more. 

The Global Day of Unplugging, organized by the Unplug Collaborative, is in March, but Renaissance kicked off the campaign on Feb. 14. 

School-provided technology was shut down for the day, and students and staff were encouraged  to leave phones, smartwatches and headphones at home or turned off, school Principal Maria Francisco said.

“We are thrilled to report that our unplug day was well-received by students, staff and families alike,” Francisco said. “We received a ton of feedback from all that they look forward to participating in more days where devices take a back seat to human connections.”

The Global Day of Unplugging awareness campaign began in 2009, a collaboration between Reboot, a Jewish arts and culture nonprofit, and Sabbath Manifesto, a project designed to slow down lives in an increasingly hectic world, according to the Unplug Collaborative website.

“What was once a small group of people gathering for tech-free Shabbat dinners turned into thousands of worldwide communities organizing unplugged events, year after year,” the website says.

There is “overwhelming research that shows that health and human connections have been adversely impacted by overuse of tech,” especially during and after the coronavirus pandemic,  Francisco said in a Jan. 30 message to families announcing the unplug day. 

Research from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that children spend up to six hours a day watching or using screens. Data from the Pew Research Center found that about 30% of American adults say they are “almost constantly” online. A study from Utah State University found that 60% of adults are concerned about the influence technology has on their relationships with their children.

“Our overall goal by participating in Unplug is to elevate human connections over digital engagement – so we all feel less alone,” Francisco said in her message to families.

Renaissance plans to schedule one unplug day per month for the rest of the school year.

“This is a wonderful community of students, families and staff that make events like these extremely enjoyable, yet impactful,” the principal told Montclair Local.