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Student Cell Phone Distractions Worse After Virtual Learning

Teachers, administrators and students alike have found that more time on screens and away from classrooms only worsened the apparent addiction to cell phones, leading some to seek technological solutions.

Unlocked Cell Phones
(TNS) — Saying students have returned from nearly a year of virtual learning more hooked to their cell phones than ever, high school principals are trying to find solutions to getting teens to focus on their teacher.

Chicopee High School in Massachusetts is considering hiring a California-based company called Yondr that provides schools with special pouches for phones that are then locked with a high-powered magnet. Students keep their phones with them and at the end of the day they are unlocked with the same device, said Chicopee High Principal Carol Kruser.

“Students are truly struggling to get back to a sense of reality, they need help with their addiction,” Kruser said. “We need to help students recover from the last two years.”

She said she sees students doing TikTok challenges, texting to set up fights and even has problems with parents texting students during the day.

School committee member Timothy Wagner, who graduated from Comprehensive High in 2021, said he personally saw the problem when in-person classes resumed in the spring after many students had not been in school since March 2020.

“I found myself on my phone in class listening to music, texting my friends,” he said.

Since the schools relaxed a no cell phone policy nearly a decade ago, there have always been a few students who break the rules and sneak a look at their phones in class. Now that has expanded to large numbers of students and teachers are asking for help, Kruser said.

She said the school would hire Yondr for $15,000 for a pilot program that would run from February through June. Each student will be given a special pouch and will be instructed to turn off their phones before putting them in it. The pouch is then locked with a powerful magnet for the day.

The few students who may need them for unique reasons, for example, a youth who has diabetes and tracks their blood sugar through their phone, will be given a pouch that can be opened with strict instructions on when they can use it, Kruser said.

At the end of the day staff will unlock the phones using the same magnets, she said.

The school nurse, principal and several other key people will have magnets so they can unlock them in an emergency, Kruser said.

If the program is accepted Chicopee High would be the first to use it in Western Massachusetts. There are at least four high schools in the Boston area which use it, she said.

While Chicopee High School is proposing to use Yondr, Comprehensive High School will instead strictly crackdown on the existing policy, which allows students to only use phones in the cafeteria during their lunch break, Superintendent Lynn Clark said.

Chicopee High teachers decided to use Yondr because it is considered underperforming and is under a turnaround program. No matter how talented and well-trained teachers are, students will not excel if they are distracted and not paying attention, Kruser said.

School committee members said they have multiple questions about the program and referred it to their next meeting for more discussion and a possible vote on whether they wanted to institute it.

One of the biggest questions was how staff is going to lock phones for more than 900 students who come in at about the same time without creating a line out the door.

Only two entrances are open in the morning with one mainly used for buses. Kruser said there may be some delays at first but they should have enough magnets and staff to get through the groups quickly. Dismissal time should be easier because students could wave their phones in front of a magnet left near the exits.

“I do realize students will not be happy with this because they are so connected to their phones,” she said. “There will be broken pouches. The kids will be upset, I will not be their favorite person for a while.”

Before the program starts, administrators will create a policy with progressive discipline for violations such as students putting an old phone in their pouch so they can still have their phone active. If a student forgets their pouch, they will have to leave their phone in the principal’s office, she said.

But Kruser said the program solves a lot of problems. While some teachers require students to put their phones in a box when they come into class, many are afraid those phones could be stolen. It also allows students to have their phones before and after school so they can call for a ride or for other reasons.

Member Chester Szetela questioned if it is a mistake to lock up the phones when students may need them for educational purposes, but Kruser said all students have Cromebooks they can use for any type of research.

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