Monday, June 24, 2024

Brunswick County Schools is looking to beef up cellphone policy

Brunswick county school district heard a presentation from Yondr as they consider strengthening cellphone policy. (Courtesy Yondr)

BRUNSWICK COUNTY — Cellphone-free schools could be in the cards in Brunswick County.

READ MORE: Attendance concerns propel Brunswick County schools to update absentee policy

As the district explores ways to alleviate distractions in the classroom, a phone pouch with a magnetic lock may be one solution. 

At Tuesday’s curriculum and policy committee meeting, board members received a presentation from a representative of Yondr, a company gaining popularity in K-12 school districts across the nation. Founded in 2014, Yondr concentrates on marketing its lockable cellphone pouches. 

The magnetic pouches gained traction in recent years as concert venues and schools began to utilize the product. More recently, Yondr’s services have been introduced in individual schools in Philadelphia, Texas, and California, but most notably in Akron, Ohio, where it is employed in all Akron public schools.

It works like this: Students would store their phones at the start of the day, keeping them out of sight during classes. Izaac Castren presented the product to the board, indicating students would lock the magnet pouch and stow them away. Then the phone could be unlocked at day’s end at free-standing bases located either outside or inside buildings, such as exits or stairway entries.

Velcro pouches would be provided for students with medical obligations or special circumstances to open as needed. 

According to Gordon Burnette, Brunswick County did a survey last year about cellphone use in middle and high schools. It showed cellphones presented an “impediment to academic outcomes and are often connected to adverse student behaviors,” Burnette said. 

While the district aims to minimize classroom distractions, board member Steven Barger told Port City Daily he believes Brunswick County’s challenges with cellphones in class are no different from those faced by other districts nationwide.

“This is not just a Brunswick County schools issue and it’s not just a public school issue; it’s a societal issue,” Barger said. 

Castren told the board that 84% of the schools using the product saw a change in student engagement; 72% saw positive change in student behavior; and 68% saw positive change in academic performance. 

“Our attention spans are supposed to be at about 12 [seconds] and now they’re around 9,” board member Catherine Cooke said at the meeting. “A goldfish’s attention span is 8 seconds so we’re getting close to the goldfish.”

Castren also noted the Yondr pouches can improve teacher and student dynamics by removing the fatigue created from instructors consistently enforcing cellphone policies throughout the day.  

Superintendent Dale Cole agreed.

“This pouch is sort of a middle ground, trying to avoid the power struggle that a teacher can find themselves in when a kid has their phone when it’s pinging, or ringing, or whatever,” he said. “The teacher has to ask for it to confiscate it and you run into this back and forth. Meanwhile, no teaching is happening.” 

In North Carolina, school districts like Charlotte-Mecklenburg have intensified cellphone policies, going so far as to ban them even for instructional use.  

Currently, the BCS cellphone policy allows students to bring devices on campus; however, they are not supposed to be activated, used, or displayed during instructional hours unless stated otherwise by teachers or administrators.

The current policy also says students using devices during instructional hours without permission risk them being taken away, with students facing varying consequences based on device usage. For instance, using a device to cheat on a test would have harsher consequences than scrolling social media?

If Yondr is not used, the district is open to finding “the most cost efficient and effective way to limit cell phone use in the classroom,” according to Barger.

He noted the Yondr pouches could be an expensive solution. The initial prices for the pouch would cost around $25 per student, including the cost of the pouch and the implementation process. Pouches are estimated to last around four years when purchased; however, the district would have to account for lost or damaged pouches. 

“Making sure that we are thoroughly researching anything we spend money on, because at the end of the day we are using taxpayer funds, so we want to make sure that we are making the very best choices,” Barger said. 

The board noted that if they decide to continue with Yondr’s services, it will likely employ a pilot program in a middle- or high-school in the district.  Burnette said the board will explore more solutions “to alleviate the problems caused by cellphones in the instructional environment.”

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