Cell phone pouch helps teachers keep students focused in classrooms

If you ask a teacher, they’ll probably tell you cell phones are still an issue and a big distraction.

Now, thousands of schools around the country - including here in the metro - are using a small cell phone pouch to take back their classrooms.

Career Pathways in St. Paul is getting back to basics. Their classrooms are busy with students learning – and teachers teaching - without the distraction of cell phones.

“I think more people are focusing on what we’re learning and less on their phones. It’s not that the phones aren’t around – they’re actually in the classrooms with their owners, but they’re locked up in these pouches,” seventh grader Anati Hassan said. “Once we’re done with advisory, we have to put our phones in a pouch and it stays in the pouch until lunchtime.” 

The charter school has been using this method for about a year, and the way students tell it, the pouches are working.

“It’s very useful. It helps keep people less distracted and, honestly, happier to not worry about what’s going on for social media,” seventh grader Trinity Schultz said.

Dr. Joan Arbisi Little is the Executive Director at Career Pathways. She says it’s all about reducing the power struggle – in this case, over phones.  

“It’s hard because teachers really want the attention of the students, and sometimes the phone is more interesting to the student.”

Then she heard about a company doing something a little different.

“I heard about Yondr and I thought that sounds like a great idea. Anyone who is out trying to improve this situation, this power struggle, has got something. I want to see how it works,” she said.

It’s simple: the phones are turned on silent and locked in the pouches. They can be easily opened at an unlocking station with permission from a teacher.

Sixth grader Amirja Jones said while it’s not always easy to lock them up, he's noticed his own grades are getting better.

“It teaches me a way to leave my phone alone, just put my phone down," Jones said.

Family therapist Amber Wentzel said it’s a good sign when kids are aware of the impacts of technology because when they live in the digital world, they can miss out on the real world.

“If your sense of the world is through the lens of social media, you’re not getting the entire reality because people are showing what they want to see, what they want others to see so kids are kind of learning this false perception of what the world is, what people are,” she said.

Being able to keep a student’s focus on what’s happening in the moment is a win for everyone – even if it takes a locked pouch to get there.

Yondr isn't just in schools; the pouches are also used by artists, comedians and musicians. According to the company, each pouch is about $15 to $30 per student.

“Any tool that can help get the kids back focusing on the teacher and on the learning is a good tool,” Dr. Joan Arbisi Little said.