Phone for Food: Iowa City schools adopt cell phone program that earns promotions from local restaurants

By Sophia Schillinger

Three quarters of teens around the world have or have access to smartphones according to a recent study by the  Pew Research Center. Teachers and learning are hit hard by this reality, and schools keep asking themselves “what can we do to reduce cell phone usage?”  Banning them won’t work as people would still use their phones. For Iowa City Schools, Pocket Points, Inc. has the answer.

Pocket Points is an app that rewards students for keeping their phones off during school by granting them points to local restaurants. Once they earn a certain amount of points, they can get discounts, coupons and gifts at local restaurants. Some restaurants that are redeemable include The Pita Pit, Jamba Juice, Chick-Fil-A, Insomnia Cookies and Cold Stone.

To earn points, the app has to be set up with the school, but once schools jump on board, students can connect and begin earning credits. Pocket Points is not set up at Cedar Falls High School, but Iowa City West High School does use the program.

“Overall, I think the app has been a good incentive at our school,” said Olivia Moore, a senior at Iowa City West. “I know lots of people who have the app, and they all get excited when talking about what they are going to buy with their points. Free chicken nuggets from Chick-Fil-A is a very popular option.”

Pocket Points knows it is hard to give up one’s phone for seven hours, so they are flexible to those who don’t want to give up their phone the whole day. “It can be hard, and I usually end up still texting while the app is running. It pauses your timer from the app, but it’s easy to start earning again afterward,” Iowa City West senior Bethany Schillinger said.

Pocket Points app is also an outlet to have a healthy competition. “Across West, people are always telling others to go on the app so they can earn points faster together. It’s also fun to look at the leaderboard and see who’s ahead. Since we can connect to the university and gain points through the night, they add up pretty quickly,” Schillinger said. The leadership board displays who has the most points in the school, and The University of Iowa also participates in the program.

The app may have been a good incentive for students to keep their phone turned off in their pockets throughout the school day, but just like any app, students are finding a way to cheat the system. “On the downside, there are few known hacks to the app, which can be used to get a lot of points without actually spending time off your phone,” Moore said.

Another downside to the app is a phone’s battery life. To keep Pocket Points running on one’s phone all day causes phones to drain faster. “I’ve noticed that it makes my battery die a little faster than usual,” Schillinger said.

Some students believe Pocket Points is a reason to stay off their phones throughout the day, but others think it isn’t playing a role in the school’s society. “I haven’t seen a huge change in whether people use their phones or not. Some people may feel like the reward isn’t worth it to them, and the ones that use it are the ones who already don’t go on their phones. I  wouldn’t recommend it because I haven’t seen any drastic changes in cell phone use. Also people have found a way to cheat it and get themselves more points by changing dates and stuff,” Iowa City West senior Jess Skopec said.

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