19 August 2022

Mobile phone pouches free up Yass High School students to connect in a different way

| Claire Fenwicke
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Yondr pouche

Yondr pouches installed around Yass High School have provided countless benefits. Photo: NSW Education.

Not a single phone can be seen in the playgrounds of Yass High School.

For the past year, mobiles have been locked away in special pouches designed to create phone-free spaces.

Principal Linda Langton said the Yondr pouches were introduced halfway through Term 1 of 2021.

“We were seeing an escalation in cyber bullying and teachers were reporting disruptions to learning, mainly because students were using their phones in class,” she said.

“We’d see large friendship groups of children in the quad sitting down and texting each other rather than actually talking to each other.”

The school’s previous “off and away policy” worked to an extent, but didn’t deliver the results needed in the classroom or on the playground.

That’s when the pouches were introduced.

Students now turn off their phones and place them in a magnetically lockable pouch. Designated stations around the school allow the pouches to be opened again at the end of the day.

Ms Langton was prepared for resistance from parents and students when the new phone policy came into effect.

“It’s not just the kids who are used to having constant access to their parents, it’s the other way around as well,” she said.

“But I only received three negative emails.”

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Yass High School wellbeing coordinator Teresa Baines said it didn’t take long for students to also embrace the new policy.

“I think it’s taken that pressure away for a lot of students, not having their phone constantly buzzing in their pockets, notifications all the time,” she said.

“The transition was definitely harder for the senior students rather than the juniors … the seniors were used to having more autonomy.

“[Now] I even have students who physically hand their phones to me to be locked … it takes away that pressure and anxiety and they are much better students.”

A girl shows how the Yondr pouch can be locked and unlocked.

The pouch can be locked and unlocked at stations around the school (as demonstrated by year 8 student Bethany Gordon). Photo: Yass High School.

The behavioural differences have been striking.

“Our suspension data has dropped immensely … we had over 100 suspensions in a year, and now that’s under 80 at the same time the school has been growing,” Ms Langton said.

“Instances of cyber bullying are also going down. We had a period where our office foyer was full of mainly year 8 and 9 girls impacted by cyber bullying, that’s now down to nothing.”

The difference in the playground is also audible.

“The quad is much noisier now, handball has had a huge resurgence, they’re just having a lot more fun out there, having spirited debates about what they’ve seen on TV, it’s such a nice buzz,” Ms Langton said.

“This has strengthened their engagement in learning and their social connections; phones are barriers to those things.”

Year 11 students Mark Box and Mackenzie Ironside have noticed the benefits.

“It’s one less distraction in the classroom, no-one’s listening to music or has Snapchat notifications going off, so there’s more time to concentrate on our work,” Mark said.

“You can actually find out more interests in what you’re learning as well, because you’re actually paying attention.”

For Mackenzie, the changes outside the classroom have been more stark.

“It was weird socially for a while when it first started … there were a few groups who would play games together and be texting, so they had nothing really to talk about,” she said.

“There are definitely more interactions between students now.”

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Parents have also embraced the lack of technology.

One of Kim Gourlay’s sons graduated Yass High School in 2020 and she currently has a son in year 7.

She said her youngest had picked up on the difference.

“He’s noticed the kids aren’t as chatty in the mornings. But they’re interacting at a more personal level at recess and lunch when they have no access to their phones. It’s been really good for him,” Ms Gourlay said.

“I think parents over the years have great concerns about their kids’ usage of phones and devices and how to manage it. I’m quite happy having support from schools in that space.”

Parents can apply for exemptions for children with hearing or vision issues, health conditions tracked on their phones, or mental health concerns.

“We acknowledge nothing in school can be one size fits all,” Ms Langton said.

Original Article published by Claire Fenwicke on Riotact.

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