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How this school district in St. Louis County is stopping phone use in class

Social media, cyberbullying and lack of student engagement have made schools rethink how they handle technology in the classroom.

JENNINGS, Mo. — As social media and cyberbullying take a rising toll on Gen Z, schools in the St. Louis region adapting their cell phone policies to help protect students and keep them more engaged during the instructional day.

Jennings School District Superintendent Dr. Paula Knight told 5 On Your Side the district's schools had never had an official policy or documented process in place for cell phone usage.

Formerly, students had room to carry their devices and use them throughout the instructional day, but that all changed at the beginning of this school year.

In January, Jennings started to look at options and piloted the use of Yondr pouches to lock up phones until the student leaves.

“This is how we get kids re-engaged around teaching and learning and getting them re-engaged around how we become more socially secure around one another,” Knight said.

Now, at the beginning of each day, high school and middle school students put their cell phones inside of a pouch and lock them up for the day. 

Students get to carry the pouch around in their backpacks, but the pouches can only unlock when hit against magnetic wall devices placed strategically around campus. At dismissal, they unlock their pouches and take their phones to use off campus.

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Building principal James Robinson expressed how the pouches have changed the landscape of learning in the few weeks school has been in session.

"We're getting a chance to cover more curriculum inside of the classrooms … It really gives a different lens to instruction," he said.

Educators also acknowledged concerns from parents about communication in the event of an emergency, particularly following mass shootings in schools across the country.

Jennings, similar to most schools, has communication plans in place for emergencies that might prompt a call to parents.

“Having the adults in the building, that's part of our responsibility to ensure that we are keeping our young people safe,” Knight said.

Leaders added they received good feedback from parents about the new process.

They encouraged parents if something to contact the school’s front office by phone or email and expect a response back. The district also will alert the community.

The Ferguson-Florissant and University City school districts also have phone-free policies on their campuses.

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