Holyoke Public Schools to implement Yondr pouch policies

The Holyoke Public School system is one of the latest districts in western Massachusetts to lock up cell phones as they look to cut down distractions in the cla
Published: Aug. 25, 2023 at 11:11 AM EDT
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HOLYOKE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- The Holyoke Public School system is one of the latest districts in western Massachusetts to lock up cell phones as they look to cut down distractions in the classroom.

Yondr pouches are increasing in popularity. Two years ago, Chicopee High School became the first public high school in western Massachusetts to implement Yondr pouches, but now, the number of districts is growing. Holyoke Public Schools is the latest to follow suit.

“We already have a policy in place of no cell phone use in the classroom, so this isn’t a new policy. This is just a tool that we are using to be able to support implementing the policy,” said Holyoke Public Schools Superintendent and Receiver Anthony Soto.

Two Holyoke middle schools participated in the trial run last year, but now all students in grades 6 through 12 will be locking up their phones in Yondr pouches this school year.

“The feedback has been unbelievable. They were like this has changed the culture of our school and in my classroom especially,” Soto added.

Soto told Western Mass News that he received positive feedback from staff, along with students and their families.

“We saw less interactions with the teacher saying ‘Hey, put that phone away.’ With all the students being recorded without their permission, maybe something going on in the school being recorded and shared. We saw less students congregating outside of the classroom so when kids have their phones, they can easily say, ‘Hey John, I am in the bathroom. Come hang out,’” Soto explained. “…Or more importantly, we just saw more student engagement, students engaged in learning, as opposed to having their head buried in their phones.”

However, much like other districts that have adopted the Yondr pouches, feedback was not always positive.

“Initially, before we implemented it, a lot of students struggled with it and it was just FOMO, fear of missing out. We’re addicted to our phones. That’s the reality and that’s true. Not having it there was that fear that kids have,” Soto added.

That was something Chicopee experienced as many students pushed back at the start of the program, but much like Holyoke, their mindset has shifted.

“Is that feeling of ‘Oh my God, I’m putting my phone away’ or ‘I don’t have access to my phone all day,’ but when speaking to some of the students, when I did my tour in June, that actually were okay with it,” said Chicopee Public Schools Dr. Marcus Ware.

It’s a program Ware said is here to stay.

“Like anything, it has had its hiccups, but what we have seen is a significant reduction in any type of distraction between a student and their education,” Ware noted.

The success they have seen at the high school level could mean extending Yondr pouches to middle schools across the city, which is a concept Springfield Public Schools might explore as well.

“We try to pilot in one of the largest high schools in western Mass. - 2,200 students - but it was very successful. The teachers felt that students were attentive, more focused,” said Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Daniel Warwick.

Springfield Public Schools first introduced Yondr pouches at Central High School in the fall of 2022. At the time, students were less than thrilled to have their cell phones locked up for the day.

“In the beginning of the year, when I talked to students, they were not as happy about it. They understood it as I talk to them as the year progressed and they were willing to share that they think it has improved learning in the classroom,” Warwick noted.

Warwick said with the success their district is seeing, Yondr pouches will be implemented at Sci-Tech this year and the program will possibly be expanded to the lower grade schools too.

“Because they really have to want to implement this, it is an enormous commitment for the staffing and the students, so we are starting in the schools where need is great and they want to move forward with it,” Warwick added.

Staff readiness was part of Holyoke’s decision to begin the program in their middle school, but Soto told us he’s confident the Yondr pouches will be a positive change for all students’ learning and increase engagement in the classrooms.

“There was a time, way back in the day, where science and research around smoking was that it was bad for you. Yet, our schools had designated smoking areas for the students,” Soto said. “We know that excessive phone use is bad, yet we still allow our kids to do it.”

While some families are still concerned about getting in touch with their kids, all districts ensure that safety is still a top priority.

“It’s something people get anxious about, but in the event of an emergency, families will be able to contact the school. We still have landlines.

In the event of an emergency, if a student needs to call out, there will be a way that they can go to the main office and get their phone unlocked or use a landline,” Soto added.

Soto told us that his district will re-evaluate at the end of their one year contract and see how it goes for students and staff before deciding to put Yondr pouches in place for good.