Akron Public Schools is looking to lock up more students’ cellphones this fall.
The school board on Monday will vote on a lease and service agreement with Yondr Inc. for 10,446 locking cellphone pouches and accessories.
The agreement would be for three years, at a cost of $180,636 the first year and $141,021 for the following two school years. The first year would use federal stimulus dollars, but the second and third year spending would come from the district’s general fund.
The agreement would bring the pouches to the following secondary schools:
- Buchtel CLC
- East CLC
- Hyre CLC
- Innes CLC
- Jennings CLC
- Litchfield CLC
- Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts
- National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM Middle School
- National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM High School
- Ellet CLC
- Firestone CLC
- Garfield CLC
- North High School
Three of those schools, East, Ellet and Buchtel, were part of a Yondr bag pilot program at the end of last school year. Each student was given a Yondr bag, and was expected to lock their phone inside at the beginning of the school day. The bags, which are used in school districts and concert venues around the country, require a special magnet to open.
A district survey of teachers from the three pilot schools showed overwhelming support for continuing the program.
Out of 194 teacher responses, nearly 96% said they either agree or strongly agree that students were more productive when their phone was in a Yondr bag. Asked whether the lack of cellphone access had increased positive behavior during lunch, 84.5% of staff said they either agreed or strongly agreed. Almost 90% said the program should continue.
The district also surveyed parents, but with different questions, asking not directly about the Yondr bag program but about the impacts they believe cellphone usage has on children.
Of 111 responses, 82% said they believed using social media on cellphones increased cyberbullying and harassment. But only 69% said they agreed or strongly agreed that students spend too much time on their phones and that it can have a negative impact on their concentration and behavior. About 47% said they believe cellphones are necessary during the school day to support student learning and engagement.
The district did not formally survey students but held a forum at East High to collect feedback. In the early days of the program at Ellet, the Beacon Journal spoke with several students who gave mixed reviews, with some worried about how they would contact home in an emergency, and others feeling relief not to have to worry about their peers’ drama because it wasn’t unfolding on social media during the school day. One student said she spent more time on her phone at night because she wasn’t on it all day. Others said they were actually talking to their friends at lunch, not sucked into their devices.
Akron Education Association President Pat Shipe, who pushed the district to try the Yondr bags in the spring, said the feedback has been “overwhelmingly” positive.
“We believe that it has improved student behaviors, it has improved students’ abilities to engage in their classrooms, and engage with each other,” she said.
Shipe said the team that presented the bags to the board, consisting of district security staff and union representatives, will give an update at Monday’s board meeting about the Yondr bags but also other security measurers implemented across the district in the spring. The district also piloted a security badge program for staff that contained a type of panic button that would alert central office staff immediately of an issue and dispatch personnel to respond.
In addition, the district purchased new metal detectors and x-ray machines.
The purchases came in the wake of significant teacher and parent frustration around safety in school buildings, with student behaviors escalated coming out of the pandemic.
Shipe said with the multiple layers of safety advancements, the district is making progress.
“Certain programs in a vacuum have been positive but as we lay multiple things on top of each other, it has improved the situation,” she said.
Monday’s meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. at the district’s offices at 10 N. Main St. and will include time for public comment ahead of any votes. It will also be live streamed on the district’s YouTube page.
Contact education reporter Jennifer Pignolet at firstname.lastname@example.org, at 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.