Old Rochester is participating in a pilot program at the junior high level that will allow students to keep cell phones on their persons, so long as they remain in a locked pouch that will be distributed by the school.
On October 12, the ORR School Committee voted to accept the program after lengthy discussion and explanation from a representative from the Yondr Company.
ORR Junior High Principal Silas Coellner presented the program that will store cell phones in pouches rather than lockers. In describing the new policy as a pilot program and a launch, Coellner outlined the disciplinary standards for the phone-pouch program.
Cell phones are to be powered down from 7:10 am to 2:04 pm.
“We actually backed off a bit in consequence,” said Coellner. He described the first offense of having the cell phone outside the pouch as required to turn in the phone to the office and pick up at the end of the school day. A student needs to commit a third offense in order to receive a detention.
Pouches belong to the school and will be collected at the end of the school year; a lost pouch will be replaced by the school at no charge.
Committee member Margaret McSweeny articulated a concern with an Apple Watch circumventing the policy’s limitations on cell-phone usages. Member April Nye noted other products with those abilities. McSweeny reiterated her belief that other smart technology should eventually be addressed. Member Matt Monteiro suggested an addendum to the policy to prevent cell phones housed in pouches but silently powered up in order to serve other devices as a hub.
Matthew Army, the representative for the new pouch made by Yondr, attended via Zoom and was given the floor to further explain how the program works.
Committee member Joe Pires said that while he supports the aims of the program, he feels as though the program is punishing many for the infractions of the few. Due to the current lifestyle of phone usage, he anticipates anxiety on the part of students and their parents because the pouch puts the phone off limits.
“If we take it away, I just think we’re overstepping, overreaching in terms of a restriction,” he said.
Attending via Zoom, committee member Jason Chisholm said, because the program is a pilot, it will yield data that can then provide the committee with a perspective to make a decision about policy. With that, he made a motion to accept the pilot program with the condition that an end date be established and a date to receive data on the pilot.
Coellner said there is a tentative launch date of Tuesday, October 31, with an end date of the last day of school (June 10.)
Old Rochester Regional Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson explained that the motion needs to amend the Student Handbook. Chisholm rescinded his motion and seconded that of Jim Muse. Pires’ was the lone dissenting vote.
After going through several relatively minor changes, the committee voted to approve the Student Handbook for ORR Junior High for 2023-24.
DECA students have been approved for overnight travel during the 2023-24 school year.
In a slight change to the committee’s vote, ORR High School Principal Mike Devoll asked the school’s DECA chapter to lay out its overnight-competition requests for the entire academic year to avoid coming back to the committee for each event.
Students Andrew Porter and Alyssa Vera and Faculty Advisor Beth Trout represented the program to the committee.
On January 4-5, 2024, ORR’s DECA chapter will be competing in the district competition (CDC) at Hyannis Convention Center. March 7-9 is the state competition (SCDC) in Boston’s Seaport District (exact location to be determined) and April 27-30 is the international (ICDC) competition at the Anaheim (California) Convention Center.
Porter summarized the purpose of DECA competition, giving the students applied education and experience in the business world.
“The trips are necessary because students have worked all year long to get these positions, and they desperately want to show their judges and competitors what they have to offer, why they think they’re the best, and why they think they belong there,” said Porter, summarizing activities including hearing from successful entrepreneurs and networking with other students and business leaders.
Devoll said ORR’s DECA chapter has been successful abroad and reports back to administration on what was learned and what other schools are doing.
“We’ve had kids place at the national level, so we’re not just a young organization. Our kids are doing well when they compete, which is exciting,” he said.
“I think it’s so important, real-world experience. It allows you to collaborate with other schools, other kids in the same program with the same ambitions, so congratulations,” said Pires to the student representatives.
“It’s been very exciting watching DECA grow,” said committee Chairperson Michelle Smith.
The committee approved a donation from the First Congregational Church of Rochester of 10 notebooks, 25 folders, a box of pencils, a box of pens and two backpacks for students.
Nelson gave the Financial Report, telling the committee that the district is in good position with a balance of $958,901. In Food Service, breakfast and lunch numbers are up.
The foundation for the new press box at Hagen Field was laid the week of the meeting, and a new backstop has been placed at the high school baseball field.
Nelson noted that Devoll was at last meeting in process of terminating an instructional assistant; the resultant vacancy has been filled by Kevin Severson.
During public comment, former school committee member Charles Motta suggested that the committee reconnect with representatives at the state level, as they had during Dr. Doug White’s tenure.
At the start of the meeting, Smith called for a moment of silence in recognition of the tragic loss of life on October 7 in the Middle East.
The next meeting of the ORR School Committee is scheduled for Thursday, November 16, and the next meeting of the Joint School Committee is scheduled for Thursday, January 18, 2024. Both meetings begin at 6:30 pm in the ORR Junior High Media Room.
ORR School Committee
By Mick Colageo