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May 27, 2018

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Should phones be banned from classroom? One Las Vegas school thinks so

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Todd Anderson / The New York Times

Meagan Strickland, 13, uses her iPhone 4s and a school-owned iPad 2 during a history class at New Smyrna Beach Middle School in New Smyrna Beach, Fla., Jan. 11, 2013.

Going to a concert or show where phones aren’t allowed is becoming commonplace — but it isn’t just artists who are requesting phone-free spaces. One Las Vegas school is phasing in phone-free classrooms with the help of a company called Yondr. Founded in 2014 by CEO Graham Dugoni, Yondr is a simple concept that helps people break the cycle of constant media stimulation and aids them in engaging with the real world, all by simply locking up their smartphones.

Sierra Vista High School Principal John Anzalone had spent months brainstorming how to curb student cellphone use in class, but it wasn’t until he went to see Chris Rock perform standup that he found a solution.

“Every month we have meetings where teachers come to me and every month it was the same thing: cellphones,” Anzalone said.

Per Chris Rock’s request, the show required that the audience lock their phone in a Yondr case before entering the venue. If a guest needed their phone for any reason, they could leave the theater and swipe the case against an unlocking base to retrieve it. “So I’m sitting there through the show and I’m so engaged. I’m not worried about who’s texting me, I’m not checking social media, I’m not checking basketball scores, and I look around and no one is recording the show,” Anzalone says.

He left the show and realized that Yondr might be the solution at school, too. The principal floated the idea to a handful of teachers and immediately purchased five sets to pilot the devices.

“Within two weeks they were the hit of the school," Anzalone said. “Several kids said, ‘I haven’t paid this much attention in class since the third grade.’ That gave me chills, because as a principal, this is my No. 1 job, to get students across the stage.” He admits that for the first few days, students didn’t know what to do without a cellphone by their side. “They were shaky almost,” he said. “It really showed the addiction that these phones give to kids.”

Now, Yondr is being used in 20 classrooms at Sierra Vista, and eight other high schools will begin testing the program this year, according to a Yondr spokesperson. As for Yondr’s founder, Dugoni says it’s his way of helping people preserve meaningful moments — and nothing could be more meaningful than an education.

“For me, I didn’t think hyperlink culture was conducive to actual learning,” the CEO says. “It’s kind of impossible to do if you have devices everywhere.”

Dugoni isn’t against the technology, he says, we just haven’t developed the right social structure for dealing with such prevalent cellphone use.

“If you look at what a smartphone does, it’s difficult to resist,” Dugoni says. “It’s hyper-visual stimulation and it’s hard not to look. Any tool you use all day every day, it’s definitely going to pattern your nervous system … People used to smoke on airplanes and now we go of course you can’t. Smartphones are really radically new, so how to deal with all the implications are [also] very new.”

Whether it’s at a concert, at work or at school, most people seem to agree that phone-free spaces are becoming more necessary than ever. It’s “a way for people to temporarily unplug, a way for people to have some element of privacy and for artists to be genuinely uninhibited,” Dugoni says. “We believe it’s all kind of part of the next wave.”

For more information on Yondr, visit overyondr.com.