Were the “lost” emails caused by the new ZIS phone policy?

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Image result for light blue camelbak water bottle

Last week while the United States was abuzz with talk of approaching Hurricane Irma, at ZIS, lost items were the focus. Last Friday it began with a water bottle, continuing with a toaster, pencil, mixtape, carrot, email and….the list goes on and on, becoming seemingly more and more fictitious. Finally, Ms. Callaghan stepped in ending the email overflow describing these lost items. She stated that numerous students had come into their office and “complain[ed] that they really [did] not have time for their email to be bombarded.” Funnily enough, these emails did not begin humorously. The lost item “trend” began when Lara Yarkadas lost her light blue Camelbak water bottle after E-Block on Friday, September 1st. Despite her efforts, her water bottle has not yet been recovered. On Wednesday I sat down with her to ask her a few questions.

Interview with Lara

LJ: How long have you gone to ZIS?

Lara: Since November of 9th grade. I lived in London before.

LJ: Have you ever lost anything in the past?

Lara: All the time.

LJ: Why did you decide to send an email about losing something this time?

Lara: Even though I lose a lot of things, I don’t necessarily lose them at school. This, actually, was the first time I lost something at school. But whenever I lose something I have to find it, otherwise I’ll be upset with myself!

LJ: So losing things is mainly a personal problem, not one with your parents?

Lara: It’s also a problem with my parents. They already bought me five water bottles!

LJ: Why did you decide to write the email the way you did?

Lara: I just thought that what most people send is so mundane! People say, “Oh I lost this, can you help me find it?” Most people completely ignore those. I thought that if I added humor, a photo or something people would respond. I guess people didn’t respond the way I expected.

LJ: Did you like the memes?

Lara: I only looked at a couple because after awhile they became completely ridiculous!

LJ: Did you find your water bottle?

Lara: No, I think it’s my responsibility. I just forget things all the time. I looked in the lost and found and came here on Sunday because of rehearsals and looked after. It wasn’t in my classroom or at home or anywhere.

LJ: What’s your ideal water bottle?

Lara: The one that I had.

After getting Lara’s perspective on the matter, I decided to talk to some ZIS students to hear what they thought about the emails. I began by asking a couple of Grade 12 students. One Grade 12 student stated that the emails were “[…] funny at first but [that they] got old after awhile,” while another student asked me if Lara’s email had been serious. She thought that the email had been “really extra” and that if she lost a water bottle, she personally would not have written an email. She claimed that a person should “cut their losses” if they lose a water bottle and that perhaps if it had been an ID, the situation would have been different. On the other hand, two other grade twelve students, when asked, exclaimed that the emails were “a funny movement.” They argued that “it [was] nice to not only have academic emails from teachers reminding you about deadlines on Classroom.” When asked about the funniest meme, they both agreed on the one about the lost toaster. They told me about seeing the lost toaster posters around the school and thought it would be a good senior prank idea.

Although the “lost” emails were only sent to Upper School students, some teachers saw or heard about was going on from their students. To understand the faculty perspective, I decided to talk to Ms. Hoekstra, an Upper School English Teacher. She had prior knowledge of the situation.

Interview with Ms. Hoekstra

LJ: How do you feel about the situation?
Ms. Hoekstra: In short, I’m not a huge fan of what happened. I understand the humor and I understand that, you know, imitation is one of the qualities of satire. But, here’s kind of what I think happened. Do you spend a lot of time on Twitter?
LJ: No.
Ms. Hoekstra: So Twitter is this place where people have discovered this new type of humor, right. People build on other people’s ideas, retweet, repeat, fill in the blanks. There are all of these hashtags and memes. I feel like that’s kind of what happened, right? And, I don’t know who participated, but whoever did lost sight of the fact that this is actually a small insular community and there would be feelings of people that they knew, or dwelled in the same place with, that would be affected. What I think happened is what they are accustomed to – the anonymity of the internet – did not translate well into the situation….I’m a fan of people using writing for humor. I kind of thought that the premise of the email was funny. No offense to the girl who wrote it, I thought it was a fine email to send. I do think it was not necessary to reply all. That’s probably not what the school emails are for….
LJ: So if people lose things, you don’t think they should send out an email at all?
Ms. Hoekstra: Maybe, maybe this calls for a new system where you guys notify your grade level leader and she or he, or whoever it is, sends out an email. I don’t know if a 15 or 20 dollar water bottle is necessarily worth an email to the whole school. Maybe to your grade or the classes you had that day. But, I don’t think you need to email 100 students. I do kind of think that … there’s just such a fine line between what is humor and what’s bullying. And, that’s what made me feel uneasy. I felt that what happened could really have been taken the wrong way

LJ: But this has never happened in the past, has it? What about when you were a student?
Ms. Hoekstra: We didn’t have school emails. We didn’t use email as a communication platform with teachers. You know the school went one-to-one with laptops in 2008 or 2009. So, maybe that’s when email addresses were introduced. However, I think email etiquette and knowing what to send to who is an important life skill.

Lastly, I went to Ms. Callaghan to see if I could get the most recent update on the emails. I had asked her to talk to her on Thursday, but she was not able to, as she was still following up with students who had taken part in the email chain. Luckily, I met with her on Friday. I started the conversation by asking her how she heard about the emails because they were only sent to students. After hearing about the numerous student complaints, we moved on to why she had stepped in.

Interview with Ms. Callaghan

LJ: What was the main problem with the emails? Was it the quantity of the emails, rather than what was being said?

Ms. Callaghan: Yes.

LJ: Did anyone tell you that they thought what was happening was bullying?

Ms. Callaghan: No and even reviewing them, though there was mockery, the intent of the people that did send them was humor. The impact though was number one mockery, which is a form of bullying. It was at the expense of someone. It also though is a violation of our responsible use policy because the policy clearly states that ZIS materials, such as devices and emails, are meant for educational purposes. And, … over 500 students … were receiving these. Many of whom are feeling quite stressed right now with say university applications and extended essays and have other things they need to be doing right now, other than looking at all of this stuff.

LJ: What then do you think someone should do then, if they truly lose something?

Ms. Callaghan: Well, we have our lost and found. That’s a very easy thing…. The student email address is meant to be for communication for students relating to clubs, trips or activities and faculty advisors relating to those clubs, so we can communicate. So, this was an abuse of a privilege that was there for communication.

Final Thoughts

After talking to students, teachers and Lara about the “lost” emails, I personally have maintained my initial impression of the situation: those emails were funny! On Monday at lunch when the majority of the emails were coming out, my friends and I were at the edges of our seat, pushing the refresh button every few seconds to see if a new one would appear. I, thus, would have to agree with one of the grade 12 students I interviewed that it was great to have some comic relief on an otherwise stressful week. I understand that what the students (including Lara) did was a violation of the schools responsible tablet use policy, but I think that what happened should lead the school to re-evaluate the environment they have created. Obviously, students are stressed and need to let off a bit of steam. Perhaps the school’s new phone policy also led to this outcome. If students cannot access Twitter, Snapchat, Whatsapp or Facebook to share some memes with a friend, how else are they supposed to do so? Although the “lost” emails may superficially appear trivial, perhaps they point to a larger issue in school policy.

Annabel Jones (18’)

A big thanks to the students and teachers that allowed me to interview them, especially Lara! This article would not have been possible without your opinions.

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