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California High School Becomes the Largest U.S. School to go Cell Phone Free

After an initial pilot program last year, administrators at San Mateo High School in California decided to implement a full cell phone ban during the school day for students this year.

Wallace Ting | @TingWallace
September 22,  2019
Education News

With increasing evidence that persistent access to cell phones can impair learning and cause restlessness and lack of sleep, the largest public school to date in the United States, San Mateo High School in California, has implemented a campus-wide cell phone ban during the school day that began at the onset of the 2019-2020 academic school year.

There is increasing evidence that shows that mobile devices can increase distractibility and negatively affect learning.

With a student enrollment of approximately 1700 and located between San Francisco and technology world of Silicon Valley, San Mateo High School administrators decided to implement the new policy on cell phones after noticing an increasing number of students spending time on their mobile devices as opposed to study, learning, or even socializing. In an interview with NBC News, Assistant Principal Adam Gelb justified the new policy, saying “You’re here to learn. You are here to work with your teachers and students. We started getting away from that in the last couple of years because of these devices and how addictive they can be.”

All students at San Mateo High School received a Yondr Pouch, a magnetic locking bag in which students are expected to leave their devices throughout the course of the school day. When the school day dismisses, students unlock their pouches on specialized devices that teachers and administrators have access to in classrooms and offices. In addition to schools, Yondr Pouches have also been used at various music concerts and comedic shows, with the hope that audience members spend more time enjoying the show versus on their phones.

At the beginning of each day, students are expected to store their cell phones in a Yondr Pouch, a magnetic case that only teachers and administrators can unlock.

As schools continue to develop and implement cell phone policies, San Mateo High School’s strategy is not without its share of criticism. Concerns about communication in the case of an emergency, legitimate situations in which a cell phone would enhance learning, and having access to the device during designated break or lunch times are all valid concerns that have been raised by students at the school. As this is the first full year of San Mateo High School’s implementation of this policy, other educators and districts will certainly follow the program’s effectiveness with a vested interest as they ponder similar initiatives at their schools.

Dr. Wallace Ting is originally from Dallas, Texas and began his career in education as a public school mathematics teacher in Texas and New York City (as part of the NYC Teaching Fellows program). He has also worked in international education for a total of 10 years as a Principal, Deputy Director, and Director in Guatemala, Colombia, and Nigeria. Currently, Dr. Ting resides in Orlando, Florida with his young son, Phillip and enjoys playing tennis, camping, and hiking.


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