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Yonder phone locking pouch

Yondr locking pouch and unlocking base.

Seattle middle school to lock phones next year

Hamilton International Middle School says move is critical to student learning

Seattle’s Hamilton International Middle School announced this week that it will require cellphones and smart devices to be locked away in sealed pouches during the school day starting in September 2024. According to a news release from the Hamilton PTSA, other Seattle schools are expected to follow suit in the coming weeks.

The move reinforces the school’s longstanding “phones away for the day” policy and is meant to support academic performance, student engagement, mental health, and staff retention while decreasing bullying and other disruptive behaviors. During the school day, simple canvas pouches will be used to store phones and smartwatches. They will be locked and unlocked using a locking base. 

Hamilton phone lock pouch

The locking pouch system that will be employed at Hamilton International Middle School starting in September. Graphic from Yondr

How it will work

When students enter the school, they will place their phone or watch in a pouch, which is then locked. Students will keep their phone pouches with them but won’t be able to use the devices until the pouch is unlocked at the end of the school day. 

According to Yondr, the company that makes the pouches, one million students use the locking system, including one other school in Washington State. Yondr says schools report:

  • 83% increase in student engagement in the classroom
  • 74% improvement in student behavior
  • 65% increase in academic performance

“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,” PTSA president Molly Branson-Thayer said in the release. 

In keeping with current policy

According to HIMS principal Dr. Eric Marshall, enforcement of the current “phones away for the day” policy has become increasingly challenging and often falls on classroom teachers. He told parents at a recent community meeting that teachers and staff are overwhelmingly in support of the locking pouches since enforcement of the policy has often fallen on classroom teachers. Marshall himself estimated that he spent at least two hours a day last year dealing with cell phone-related issues.

According to the school’s Tech Committee lead, Lori Dennis, Hamilton 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,” Dennis said. The Tech Committee brought their research to the larger Hamilton community and the administration for feedback, and the school administration made the final decision. The PTSA will fundraise to pay the one-time fee for the program.

In announcing their decision to lock phones and watches, Hamilton PTSA offered these answers to questions frequently asked about locking pouches:

How do students receive a locking pouch?

In September, all students are assigned a pouch to secure their phone, smartwatch, and/or earbuds. The pouch is the property of the school and is considered on loan to the student during the school year. Students will be responsible for the pouch at all times and for bringing the pouch to and from school each day.

How does the process work at arrival and dismissal?

Upon entering school, students turn off their phones, place them inside a pouch, and lock them in front of staff members. At the end of the school day, the pouch is unlocked by the student at designated unlocking stations.

What if a parent/guardian wants to reach their child during the school day?

Parents will need to call the school’s office to reach their child.

What if a student needs their personal device for a medical issue?

Students who have a documented medical condition and who need a personal device for monitoring their condition will be provided with an alternate velcro pouch that allows immediate access.

Will devices be safe?

Students will have their phones in their personal pouch for the entire school day. The school will advise students to store their pouches in their backpacks and lockers.

What if a student needs to leave the building before dismissal?

If a student needs to leave school early for an approved early dismissal, medical emergency,

athletic event, or school-sponsored trip, students will be able to unlock their pouches at school prior to their departure. If returning to school during the instructional day, the pouch will be relocked when they walk back into the school building.

How will students contact families if there is a lockdown, active shooter situation, or other emergency?

School administration and staff are trained to execute safety and emergency procedures with law enforcement. The school has a system in place to contact parents. Every room in the building is equipped with a landline phone that can dial 911. Teachers and administrators also have cell phones. Students follow the school’s emergency procedures in the case of an emergency.

What if the student doesn’t comply or damages the locked case to access their phone?

The pouch is the property of the school. If a student damages their pouch or is caught on their phone, they will be subject to disciplinary action.

Do the pouches block cell signals or the internet?

The pouches do not block cell signals or the internet. Students are expected to turn their devices off before putting them in their pouch.

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