Three years ago, when Toni Warrick took the helm of West Bladen High School in rural North Carolina, something iconic was missing.
The school had no bells.
Teachers had to keep time during their lessons. Students were responsible for getting themselves from class to class on schedule. The bells had been phased out by the prior principal. The new principal had her doubts.
"I had never heard of anything like it. I had always used bells, and most of my experience came form middle school and high school," Warrick said. So I said, 'Let's see where this goes.' And it really worked. We really enjoy not having them."
West Bladen High is one of a small but growing number of U.S. schools that have abandoned the traditional strategy of using bells to move students from one class to another.
There is no initiative or study pushing schools to silence their bells. Instead, the strategy has spread mostly by word of mouth, touted by principals who say they would never go back to bells.
"If any other schools have ever contemplated it, I would highly encourage them to try it," Warrick said. "There is nothing to lose. If your school can't handle it, you just put the bells back in. But if you turn them off, it does take some the institutionalization out of school."
No bells are used at East Middle School in Joplin, Mo., a school that was demolished by a catastrophic tornado in 2011. For the past two and a half years, the faculty has taught in a warehouse, waiting for the middle school to be built.
And although a bell system was installed in the warehouse, the school turned them off after the first year. After Christmas break, when the staff and students of East Middle School finally move into their rebuilt building, the bells will stay off.
"We want to give teachers as much flexibility with students as possible," Assistant Principal Jason Weaver said. "Not every class period needs to be the same length of time every day."
One of the most recent schools to adopt the bell-less strategy is Rancho Mirage High School, the newest school in the Palm Springs Unified School District. The school opened its doors for the first time in September.
"It was confusing at first," said Ruby Guzman, a sophomore student. "(The principal) said it looked like a college campus, so they were going to treat us like college students. The standards for us went higher. It seemed different at first, but it got easier."
Not everyone agrees. Some students, such as freshman Gladys Blanco, said they have been marked tardy for class unfairly because of the lack of bells.
Lisa Chapel, the parent of a Rancho Mirage High freshman, questioned if the lack of bells was unfair to students who didn't carry a cellphone. Although adults are expected to keep their own schedule, she argued that most can do so easily because they wear a watch or carry a phone.
"Then again, I bet they'd still be lollygagging in the halls even if they did have bells," Chapel said.
But they aren't, according to the staff at Rancho Mirage High. Principal Ken Wagner said the strategy has reduced tardy students because students no longer wait for a warning bell before rushing to their next class. The lack of bells also returns the authority to the Rancho Mirage High faculty, history teacher Brian Belliveau said.
At a traditional school, the class bell releases students in an instant, even if a teacher is mid-sentence. But at Rancho Mirage, that same sentence gets finished, Belliveau noted.
"They know, if its 8:58 a.m., that you need the next 30 seconds to finish your thought," he said. "They know that we are the one that releases them, not the bell. And if we run a minute over, they still have enough time to get to their next class."
Rancho Mirage High inherited the bell-less strategy from American Canyon High, a school in California's Napa Valley region that hasn't used class bells since it opened 3 1/2 years ago.
School leaders from around the country tour American Canyon to learn from its technology programs, but many leave equally impressed by the peaceful silence, said Principal Mark Brewer.
"We never turned them on," Brewer said. "We are teaching kids to be an adult. Whether they enter a career or college after high school, there are no bells. ... There are not bells in life. You just learn to be places and be responsible."