Seattle middle school implements mandatory cellphone locking system

Hamilton International Middle School will introduce a mandatory cellphone locking system this September, aiming to improve academic performance, student engagement and mental health.

Principal Dr. Eric Marshall approved the plan Thursday, marking a significant step towards minimizing distractions and fostering a better learning environment. The initiative will use canvas pouches made b yYondr, a company renowned for creating phone-free spaces.

The pouches, which can only be unlocked with a special base at the end of the school day, allow students to keep their phones in their possession without access during school hours.

"We heard from parents that use and abuse of cellphones during the school day is a top concern, and it draws attention away from academics," said PTSA President Molly Branson-Thayer. Enforcement of the current "phones away for the day" policy has become increasingly challenging for classroom teachers, added Dr. Marshall, who often spends hours daily dealing with cellphone-related issues.

The Yondr pouches have been implemented in one other Washington school, in Aberdeen, and are currently used by one million students nationwide. Schools using this system have reported an 83% increase in student engagement, a 74% improvement in behavior and a 65% increase in academic performance.

Tech Committee lead Lori Dennis noted, "We reached out to schools across the country looking for solutions. Again and again, principals told us the Yondr pouches were dramatically improving academic achievement and school environments." The committee’s research and subsequent community feedback led to the administration's decision, with the PTSA set to fundraise for the program's one-time fee.

"Our PTSA this year started a tech committee, said Molly Spence, a Hamilton International Middle School mom. 

"The ‘away for the day’ cellphone policy is challenging to implement," said Spence. "It takes time away from teachers and administrators that they’d rather spend teaching or running the school."

This initiative comes amid Seattle Public Schools' ongoing lawsuit against social media companies like TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and Snapchat. The district claims these platforms contribute significantly to students' social, emotional and mental health issues, which in turn drain resources from schools.

"Young people across the nation are struggling with anxiety, depression, thoughts of self-harm and suicidal ideation. This mental health crisis impacts the SPS mission to educate students by draining resources from schools," the district said in a news release.

Other Seattle schools are expected to follow Hamilton International Middle School's lead and announce similar plans in the coming weeks.

How do Yondr cellphone pouches work?

1. As students enter Hamilton International Middle School, they will turn off their phone and place it in their assigned pouch. 

2. Students will close and secure their pouch and keep it with them throughout the day. 

3. When leaving school, students will tap their pouch on a base unit to unlock it and retrieve their phone. 

This innovative approach has been well-received in other settings, including schools, comedy shows, concerts and weddings, where it has proven to enhance focus and genuine connection.

"We want our teachers to stay focused on teaching. We want our parents to stay focused on running the school. We want our kids to stay focused on learning and if they’re seeing someone responding to a TikTok challenge over here, or they’re going to the bathroom where cellphones come out because there’s not an adult there, Spence added.

As students adapt to this new routine, parents and school officials hope to see improved academic performance and more meaningful interactions.


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