DESE officials hear from local schools on effectiveness of cell phone pouches

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is taking a closer look at cell phone policies across the state, which differ district to dis
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 3:26 PM EDT|Updated: May. 23, 2023 at 5:18 PM EDT
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CHICOPEE, Mass. (WGGB/WSHM) - The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is taking a closer look at cell phone policies across the state, which differ district to district, including here in western Mass. Could a statewide policy be put in place, and how are some local communities doing with limiting phones in class?

DESE Commissioner Jeffrey Riley believes that this is the first time that they have addressed it, bringing in teachers and students from districts across the state who have used cell phone pouches or lockers, and for most, the results are going better than expected, including in Holyoke and neighboring Chicopee.

“I think that almost all teachers would say that the classrooms are much better than they were last year when we started it,” said Chicopee High School Principal Carol Kruser.

In the 2021-2022 school year, Chicopee High School became the first public high school in western Massachusetts to lock away cell phones during the school day, using a program called Yondr.

Principal Kruser told Western Mass News that after a $13,000 trial run, the pouches will be back in the fall.

Principal Kruser: “We have everything we need for next year.”

Reporter: “How easy or difficult was that decision?”

Principal Kruser: “To keep it? That was easy.”

This comes as DESE addressed the topic for the first time during a meeting on Tuesday, bringing in educators and students from across the state who have participated in similar programs.

“I think virtually every member of the board has used their mobile device during this meeting,” said Milford High School Principal Josh Otlin. “I don’t say that as a criticism”

Commissioner Riley added that there may even be a financial incentive for other districts to follow suit next year.

“We will likely marry this with a matching grant of up to a million dollars for other districts interested in piloting this idea of changing the cell phone policy,” he said. “Not a mandate at this time, but we’re certainly interested in piloting this.”

This has some people from western Massachusetts excited.

“It’s a constant battle,” said Tricia Caravan of South Hadley. “Do I look at TikTok or do my homework? My friend’s on Discord! I think it goes to your point about Apple watches, way beyond cell phones, but I’m happy we’re talking about this and I’m excited about the possibility of grants.”

Holyoke Superintendent Anthony Soto also shared his excitement Tuesday.

“Two of our middle schools are already using the cell phone pouches,” he said. “We started that in February and it’s been a success and we’re looking to rule that out to all middle and high schools for next year.”

Meanwhile, in Chicopee, Principal Kruser said that there are a few bad actors, but the pouches are here to stay.

“The trick is to address the students who are not complying and address some of the families who don’t understand the gravity of how distracted the kids are in the classroom,” she said.

Principal Kruser did not share the cost of the program or how long it will be extended next year, but she said it may be extended to the middle schools beyond just Chicopee and Chicopee Comprehensive High Schools.