From the Superintendent: No Shoebox Needed

by | May 23, 2024

By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.

We had a long afternoon of lacrosse games Saturday. The first game started at 3:30, and the second game was slated to start at 5:30, but because sporting events rarely run on time, it started late. Since the second game started late, it ended late, and our dinner plans, which were already iffy, were now out the window. It would be fast food, the bane of spring sports families. 

When we finally wandered into the Chick-fil-A, it was pretty late, and very few people were in there. We ordered our food and sat down. As we ate, our eyes were drawn to a group of eight young men eating nearby. They were an unremarkable set of boys; nothing stood out about them except for one thing: there was a pile of cell phones in the middle of the table. 

They were talking, laughing, and joking. Some had food in their mouths, some had food in their hands, and some were playing with their food. Their eyes were bright, their voices were loud, and they were all animated. Eight young men on a Saturday night, in a Chick-fil-A, NOT on their phones. It was like a glimpse of what life was like in 1995. 

As My Wife pointed out these gentlemen, our conversation was drawn to one of our favorite Ricca Family traditions: Friendsgiving. Several years ago, when we lived in Vermont, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, we would host our closest friends and their families in our home. We cooked the turkey; everyone else brought the sides. We provided drinks for adults and children and opened our home to enjoy the people in our world, who would normally scatter to their families on the Wednesday before Turkey Day. 

Two years into our tradition, we added something right at the front door: two shoe boxes. The shoe boxes were for cell phones. Two years into our tradition, we decided we wanted people to look at each other and not at their phones. Two years into our tradition, no one could carry their cell phones past our front door for one night. 

One night, we reasoned, while the most important non-family family members ate, drank, and were merry in our home, would give us more moments of joy. One night without cell phones in our pockets would let us make more eye contact. One night without an alert in our hands would bring us closer to the people who matter most to us. 

That first year was a struggle. People felt awkward without their phones. We saw it, but we muddled through. The second year was better. But a funny thing happened in the third year: we forgot to put the boxes out at the front door. It wasn’t the first guest who noticed, but twenty minutes into our Friendsgiving, one of my friends came up to me and said, “Where are the shoe boxes?” Without turning away from the turkey, I directed him to where we keep them, and he went around collecting the phones. Not one person balked at it. Not even the teenagers. 

Back to our friends at Chick-fil-A. The only remarkable thing about them was that we knew them all. They were seven friends of our son Brendan, who turned sixteen this week. They chose to put their cell phones in a pile on the table. My Wife didn’t ask them. I didn’t ask them. They did it all on their own. 

Sometimes, life lessons stick. 

Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.

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