SEATTLE — Hamilton International Middle School will require cell phones and smart devices be locked away in sealed pouches when kids head back to class in September. Other Seattle schools are expected to announce similar plans in the coming weeks.

HIMS principal Dr. Eric Marshall just approved the cell phone locking plan on Thursday, June 13. The intent is to support academic performance, student engagement, mental health, and staff retention while decreasing bullying and other disruptive behaviors. The pouches will be used as a tool to support Hamilton’s existing “phones away for the day” policy.  

The simple canvas pouches, made by the company Yondr, store phones and smart watches and require an unlocking base to open. When a student enters school, they will place their phone in a pouch, which is then locked. The student maintains possession of their phone, but will not be able to use it until the pouch is unlocked at the end of the school day. 

According to the company, one million students use the locking system every school day. Yondr says schools report:

  • 83% increase in student engagement in the classroom
  • 74% improvement in student behavior
  • 65% increase in academic performance

“We heard from parents that use and abuse of cellphones during the school day is a top concern, and it draws attention away from academics,” PTSA president Molly Branson-Thayer said. 

Enforcement of the current “phones away for the day” policy has become increasingly challenging and often falls on classroom teachers, Dr. Marshall said in a meeting with the school community. 

He said he can spend hours every day dealing with cell phone-related issues. 

Tech Committee lead Lori Dennis explained, “We reached out to schools across the country looking for solutions. Again and again, principals told us the Yondr pouches were dramatically improving academic achievement and school environments.” The Tech Committee brought their research to the larger Hamilton community and the administration for feedback, and the school administration made the final decision. The PTSA will fundraise to pay the one-time fee for the program.

Seattle Public Schools is in an ongoing lawsuit against the companies that own TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Snapchat, claiming their social media platforms cause significant harm to students’ social, emotional, and mental health. “Young people across the nation are struggling with anxiety, depression, thoughts of self-harm, and suicidal ideation. This mental health crisis impacts the SPS mission to educate students by draining resources from schools,” the district said in a media release.

More details, video, and photos are available at this link:

Locking Pouches – Frequently Asked Questions

What is a cell phone/smartwatch locking pouch?

The pouch is a secure bag that is used to store an individual’s cell phone, smartwatch, and/or earbuds. It is secured by closing and locking the bag, and it is unlocked with a special device.

How does it work?

  1. As students enter Hamilton International Middle School, they turn off their phone and place it in their assigned pouch.
  2. Students simply close and secure their pouch. They keep it with them throughout the day.
  3. When leaving school, students tap their pouch on a base unit to unlock it and retrieve their phone.  

Here is video of the process from Yondr’s media kit:

Why is the school introducing locking pouches?

The pouches will be used as an additional tool to support Hamilton’s existing “phones away for the day” policy. The intent of the policy is to support examples such as academic performance and student engagement while decreasing bullying and other disruptive behaviors. 

According to Dr. Marshall, teachers and staff are supportive of the locking pouches. Enforcement of the “phones away for the day policy” has often fallen on classroom teachers. Dr. Marshall stated in a recent community meeting that during the 2023-2024 school year, he spent hours every day dealing with cell phone related issues. The graphic below shows the opportunity cost:

How did this come about?

Since last year, The PTSA has responded to various parent concerns about screen related behaviors disrupting the learning environment. In response, the PTSA Technology Committee launched a “Parenting in a Tech World” education series at the general PTSA meetings where the Director of SPS Cybersecurity joined a panel of experts including an Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Officer, an expert in digital citizenship for children, a school counselor and teachers. As part of these conversations, we also heard from the administration about the everyday challenges of enforcing the “away for the day” cell phone policy.

Why locking pouches?

The tech committee spent several months researching different strategies and tools, including talking to schools around the country who faced all the same challenges. Time and time again, we heard the same success stories. Schools increased student engagement, increased academic and social/emotional learning, decreased bullying, fighting and other social media fueled issues. We benchmarked what these schools were doing: supplement away for the day policies with Yondr pouches.

Are we the only school?

No, over a million students at both public and private school use Yondr pouches every school day.

Various private schools in Washington State have been using these same locking pouches for years. Other schools across Washington, including here in SPS, are planning to implement it in the fall, however they have yet to make the announcement.

Interestingly, the very first school market that requested Yondr locking pouches was Silicon Valley.

Take a few minutes and hear from principals, superintendents, teachers and kids. See why this has been successful at schools around the world:

These are only a few examples. Yondr’s school reported data shows:

  • 83% increase in student engagement in the classroom
  • 74% improvement in student behavior
  • 65% increase in academic performance

When will we hear more?

As part of Yondr’s support to schools, they are working with SPS and Dr. Marshall to release more information soon, such as safety information. This PTSA FAQs page will be updated as new information becomes available. Please contact [email protected] with other concerns.

How do students receive a locking pouch?

In September, all students are assigned a pouch to secure their phone, smartwatch, and/or earbuds. The pouch is the property of the school and is considered on loan to the student during the school year. Students are responsible for the pouch at all times and for bringing the pouch to and from school each day.

How does the process work at arrival and dismissal?

Upon entering school, students turn off their phone, place the phone inside of the pouch, and lock it in front of staff members. The pouch is unlocked by the student at the end of the school day at designated unlocking stations.

Will my student’s phone be safe?

Students are in possession of their phone – in their personal pouch – for the entire school day. We advise students to store the pouch in their backpacks and lockers.

What if a student needs to leave the building before dismissal?

If a student needs to leave school early for an approved early dismissal, medical emergency, athletic event, or school sponsored trip, students unlock their pouches at school prior to their departure. If returning to school during the instructional day, the pouch is locked upon re-entry to the building.

What if a parent/guardian wants to reach their child during the school day?

We want our students to be engaged in their learning, but we understand that emergencies will occur. If you need to contact your child during the school day, call the main office at 206-252-5810.

How do students contact families if there is a lockdown, active shooter situation or other emergency?

School administration and staff are trained to execute safety and emergency procedures with law enforcement. The school has a system in place to contact parents.

Every room in the building is equipped with a landline phone that can dial 911. Teachers and administrators also have cell phones. Students follow the school’s emergency procedures in the case of an emergency. 

If absolutely necessary, the pouches can be forced open or destroyed so that students can access their devices.

What if the student doesn’t comply or damages the locked case to access their phone? 

The pouch is property of the school. If a student damages their pouch or is caught on their phone, they will be subject to disciplinary action.

What if a student needs their personal device for a medical issue?

Students who have a documented medical condition and who need a personal device for monitoring their condition will be provided with an alternate velcro pouch which allows immediate access.

Do the pouches block cell signals or the internet?

The pouches do not block cell signals or the internet. Students are expected to turn their devices off before putting them in their pouch.

What do the pouches cost?

Yondr works with schools in a variety of ways for pricing. A flagship school gets special pricing. We are paying a one time fee that is significantly less than retail. Various schools are using grants, fundraising and other sources to fund. The focus here is on the return on investment and the significant gains schools have made by implementing. See above videos for some examples. Our school and another Seattle Middle School have collected data on time wasted by administration and teachers on cell phone issues.

What if I have additional questions?

This FAQs page is just a starting point and will be updated in the coming months as protocols are developed and as implementation begins. It will include links to the updated emergency protocols and technology use guidelines. Please contact [email protected] with other concerns.