Phones in school

By Ron Burtz


Professional singers, comedians and educators all have a common irritation in this modern world. The omnipresence of the smart phone has taken audiences and students out of the moment and seriously diminished the experience of the concert, comedy routine or classroom. Performers and teachers alike complain that those they are trying to entertain or educate are more interested in taking selfies, texting or Snapchatting their friends or recording the show rather than simply experiencing the moment.

Realizing this frustration several years ago, an entrepreneur developed a product called Yondr, which allows patrons and students to keep possession of their phones, but which places them “over yonder” in terms of their use … and abuse. 

Several weeks ago, Custer Jr./Sr. High principal Orion Thompson brought the devices to the attention of members of his school’s student council. He proposed using the devices as a possible solution to the disengagement of students in classrooms and other settings due to constant cell phone usage. As we have documented in previous articles in this series, Thompson, members of the faculty and even a number of students have observed a decline in social interactions and attention to academics because of the presence of phones in school. 

The Yondr system uses a soft neoprene pouch with a magnetic closure at the top. The locking device is similar to devices used to secure anti-shoplifting tags to high-dollar store merchandise like leather jackets and electronics. 

With Yondr, when students arrive at school in the morning their phones are placed into a pouch, the top is magnetized to lock it and then the student would be able to slip the phone into a pocket or backpack to carry it throughout the day. At the end of the school day, the pouch is demagnetized, the phone extracted and the pouch placed into a bin for use the next day.

“It would disallow instant access to a cell phone, yet allow the student to keep their cell phone for an emergency,” said Thompson, who notes the phone could either be switched off when placed in the pouch or left on in case the student receives an emergency call. 

“If it buzzes enough, they have the ability to excuse themselves, go to the office, unmagnetize the thing, pull it out, see if it’s an issue — see if it’s something major,” Thompson said. 

If there’s no emergency, the phone goes back in the sleeve and the student goes back to class. 

“The theory behind it is that you start to live in the now rather than the ‘cybernow,’” said Thompson. 

He said use of Yondr pouches also relieves the school of assuming liability for damage to the phone since it remains in the student’s possession. 

According to Thompson, the Yondr company recently doubled the number of participating schools and by the end of the school year it expects to double that number again.

While he admits the conversion to using Yondr would be inconvenient for a while, Thompson said that would be the case only until it became the “new normal.”

Another hurdle to overcome is the cost of the pouches along with one or more devices to lock and unlock them. Some concert venues have reportedly paid upwards of $10,000 to begin using Yondr. 

However, according to a National Public Radio article, schools normally get a break from the company and can lease the pouches for about $30 each per year. Information Thompson received from the company indicated the Yondr pouches could be obtained for $25 or less per student for a year.

That, thinks Thompson, may be a small price to pay for higher academic performance and having students simply be more “in the now.”