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Students to put away cell phones next year

Liberty County middle school and high school students will have one extra piece of gear next school year.

School board members approved a deal to have 5,500 locking cell phone pouches distributed to middle and high school students beginning with the 2024-25 school year. The students will place their cell phones in those pouches and they will remain there throughout the school day and they will be unlocked by magnetic devices at various exits across the schools.

Dr. John Ryan, school system executive director of media and technology, said the system previously tried to ban cell phones but that didn’t work. Parents had to come in to collect the phones and schools sometimes were left of drawers full of cell phones, he told board members.

Dr. Ryan pointed out that recent data shows less cell phone use increases student well-being and productivity. Also, studies reveal that major depressive episodes among teens have doubled since 2010.

“We have a problem,” he said.

La Vega High School in Texas began using the YONDR pouches, Dr. Ryan said, and the principal there saw drastic improvements in students’ mental health, engagement and academic performance.

The YONDR pouches cost $140,250 for 5,500 of them. The school system plans to issue one to each student and that student will keep that pouch for as long as they are in that school. For instance, seniors will turn theirs in at the end of their final school year and those will be reissued to incoming ninth graders. Eighth graders likewise will turn theirs in at the end of their school year, with those going to incoming sixth graders.

Students with medical needs or issues will be issued pouches that are secured with Velcro rather than having a magnetic lock. That way, Dr. Ryan said, if they need to use their phone to check their blood sugar level, they can do so with minimum disruption.

Students who damage a pouch – such as cutting the bottom out to retrieve the phone – will pay for a replacement, Dr. Ryan said.

School system officials were not aware of any system in Georgia using the YONDR pouches, but Dr. Ryan and Superintendent Dr. Franklin Perry said the Montgomery, Alabama school system uses it and endorses it.

Students are no longer texting each other during class there, Dr. Perry pointed out.

“They have seen achievement go up,” he said. “They’re now paying attention to the teacher.”

A teacher first pitched the idea of using the YONDR pouches to school officials, Dr. Ryan said. Limiting cell phone use during the school day also may help school officials teach other lessons to students, he added.

“We are losing the ability to communicate with each other, to understand social cues and body language. We’re losing that,” he said. “(This is a) way to help us teach the kids ‘this is how you talk to each other,’ so they learn how to talk and work together as a group without using a device.

“You walk into a cafeteria, they don’t talk to each other. They’re on their phones.”

The school system will update student handbooks to address the new cell phone pouches and Dr. Ryan said “the rule of three” will be put in place for students – students will have three chances to either not bring their pouch or have their cell phone not contained in the pouch before being told they can no longer bring their cell phone to school at all.

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