Tube City Community Media Inc. is seeking freelance writers to help cover city council, news and feature stories in McKeesport, Duquesne, White Oak and the neighboring communities. High school and college students seeking work experience are encouraged to apply; we are willing to work with students who need credit toward class assignments. Please send cover letter, resume, two writing samples and the name of a reference (an employer, supervisor, teacher, etc. -- not a relative) to tubecitytiger@gmail.com.

To place your ad, email tubecitytiger@gmail.com.
Ads start at $1 per day, minimum seven days.

MASD Restricts In-School Cell Phone Use

District purchases Yondr pouches for students at Founders’ Hall and the high school

By Adam Reinherz
The Tube City Almanac
May 17, 2024
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

(Adam Reinherz photo)

In a move that officials said is designed to cut down on distractions and improve student safety, McKeesport Area School District is restricting student access to cell phones.

This week the school board approved purchase of approximately 2,200 Yondr pouches at a cost of $60,100. The pouches will be distributed to students at Founders’ Hall Middle School and McKeesport Area High School.

Popular in districts nationwide, the small neoprene sacks ensure students cannot employ various smart devices during the school day.

“These are going to be purchased by us. They are provided to each student. The students will be responsible for them on a daily basis. They stay on their person. It is strictly the students’ responsibility,” school board member Matthew Keller said.

Each student will be asked to put cell phones, smart watches, ear buds and similar devices into a personal Yondr patch when they enter school. The pouch then is magnetically sealed. Keller said the student can take the pouch with them during the day, but can only re-open it with an electronic unlocking device.

The goal is to “reduce distractions — any bullying or anything — during the school day,” he said.

A need for greater protections was highlighted by a study of 246,081 students in the Commonwealth.

According to the 2021 Pennsylvania Youth Survey, among students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12, 23 percent of respondents said they had been bullied during the past year; 15 percent reported the bullying occurred electronically; and nearly 20 percent of students said they were asked about “inappropriate sexual contact through technology.”

Among students who reported being bullied through texting and social media, 41.5 percent said they seriously considered suicide in the past year.

“Bullying or other situations are creating unsafe situations for our students,” Superintendent Tia Wanzo said.

Too often, students are distributing texts or Snaps that encourage spontaneous gatherings or fights, added District Police Chief Brenda Sawyer: “This is going to eliminate all that.”

Introducing Yondr pouches doesn’t mean the removal of Chromebooks or similar devices, however.

Given the district’s reliance on online curricula, and commitment to a “one-to-one” program where all students have access to personal computers, Chromebooks and laptops are “definitely necessary,” MASD superintendent Tia Wanzo said.

Though students are permitted to use these devices, access to sites, including Snapchat, is restricted, she added.

MASD representatives praised the district’s purchase of Yondr pouches.

“I think it's a great idea,” board president Mark Holtzman said. “I think it's going to eliminate a lot of things (Sawyer) said.”

“I’m excited to see students more focused,” Wanzo said. “Although it will be something new, and they are very used to being connected to their phones, they’ll see the value in being disconnected to their phones.”

Prior to Wednesday’s approval, Wanzo and Keller visited Penn Hills High School, which began using Yondr pouches in August 2022. “We wanted to see it in practice,” Wanzo said. 

“We saw the positives. And we saw maybe some faults, some things we can work on,” Keller said.

MASD is partnering with its security company, Kellington Protective Services, to best approach the new program, Keller added.

A question already asked by parents, according to Sawyer, was whether implementing the pouches would prevent communication during a crisis. “If there's an emergency situation in the school the pouches will be unlocked,” she said. “There are also phones in each classroom that people can call, that kids can call their parents.”

Although the sacks should arrive prior to the start of next school year, the program won’t begin on day one, Wanzo said.

In order to bring students, staff and families up to speed, the district will work with Yondr to distribute literature and speak with individuals at upcoming community events, Keller said: The goal is introducing students to the program so that “when they start the new school year they will not be stressed but feel comfortable moving forward.”

Wanzo said she knows there will be additional questions and encouraged parties to reach out. “As many things as we talk about beforehand will only ease some of the uncertainty,” Wanzo said. “If there are any questions or concerns, please let us know.”

Adam Reinherz is a freelance writer. He can be reached at adam.reinherz@gmail.com.

Originally published May 17, 2024.

In other news:
"MASD Board Questioned…" || "Motorcycle Crashes Ki…"