Mar 22, 2024 - Technology

The new school essential: A Yondr cellphone pouch

A child puts a cellphone into a pouch.

A student puts a cellphone into a Yondr pouch, where it will remain locked for the day. Photo courtesy of Yondr

A company called Yondr that sells lockable cellphone pouches is rapidly cornering the market in K-12 schools, as educators crack down on texting and social media use during class.

Why it matters: Banning cellphones in schools doesn't get students to stop using them there — but forcing them to use a Yondr pouch, which gets unlocked as they leave school, is working.

Driving the news: Quietly and with little marketing, Yondr has become the de facto standard for schools that want to solve the ubiquitous cellphone problem.

  • Yondr was founded a decade ago by Graham Dugoni, a former soccer pro whose original goal was to banish cellphones from concerts.
  • The magnetic pouch — which Dugoni first pitched door to door to Bay Area schools and music venues — requires a proprietary device to unlock.

"Everything we've done has been by referral and word-of-mouth," Dugoni said at a recent conference for school superintendents.

  • "We've gone school to school, and schools have helped us develop a program that works."

How it works: Each student is assigned a Yondr pouch — "like a textbook," Dugoni said.

  • When students get to school, they have to lock their phone (and smartwatch, AirPods, etc.) in the pouch.
  • They get to keep it with them throughout the day.
  • When they leave for the day, they unlock the pouch by pressing it against a device stationed near the exit.

🚨 In case of emergency, they can go to the school office to get it unlocked. (Some classrooms also have unlocking devices.)

  • For children with medical needs who require a cellphone, say, for glucose monitoring, there's a version of the Yondr pouch with a Velcro closure.
  • If a kid forgets their pouch, they have to leave their phone at the school office for the day — and their parents get a reminder call.
  • Unlike a Faraday bag, the Yondr device does not block electronic transmissions.

What they're saying: With Yondr, "you're never confiscating the phone," Dugoni said. "It creates a really simple ground rule."

  • "These are kids that have grown up in a world where they don't know the difference of not walking through the world without a cellphone," he said at the conference.
  • "Creating a phone-free learning environment is a concrete solution that gives them eight hours a day without it."
  • That experience "allows them to see: Is their anxiety or their social issues tied to the phone and their distractions? We're giving them a reprieve from that."
The Yondr phone pouch with the proprietary tag that unlocks it.
The Yondr phone pouch with the proprietary tag that unlocks it. Photo courtesy of Yondr

By the numbers: Yondr says it has "over 3,000 school partners" in 21 countries.

  • That's "expected to grow significantly for the '24-'25 academic year," a Yondr spokeswoman said by email.
  • Over the past eight years, "school districts in 41 states have spent $2.5 million to buy pouches from Yondr," NBC News reports, citing GovSpend, a government purchasing database.

Fun fact: Concerts are still a big part of Yondr's business — it facilitates phone-free gigs for artists like Chris Rock, Bob Dylan, Garth Brooks and Dave Chappelle.

📱 Zoom out: There are more and louder calls to ban cellphones in schools — from individual school districts to states like Utah and Florida and even the British government.

  • There's a growing list of testimonials from teachers and administrators of the benefits of banning phones.
  • But teachers know that students are adept at hiding phones in their laps during class — and that parents are often the ones demanding to be able to reach their kids.

Yes, but: There's pushback from students — shockingly!

  • "Students have been abusing these pouches, by breaking them, writing on them, and cutting them open," according to a petition from a Berkeley High School student who wants Yondr banned.
  • Another anti-Yondr petition from a student at a Missouri school argues: "Collective punishment isn't necessary for the people who DO pay attention in class, which is extremely unfair."

What's next: As more states pass laws to keep kids from watching Netflix in class, a parent-founded group called the Phone-Free Schools Movement is urging them to take the next step — require that phones be locked away rather than stowed temptingly in backpacks.

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