Mobile devices have become like wallets -- among the must-have items on your person when you leave the house. Teens are no exception to this rule, but for New York City's students, this poses a real problem.
The New York Board of Education has banned the use of electronics in public schools since the 1980s. For years, there was an "out of sight, out of trouble" policy. Recently, new safety precautions such as metal detectors and backpack checks upon entry, have made it harder for middle school and high school students to smuggle their gadgets into classes. Electronics are confiscated on sight.
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Two years ago Vernon Alcoser, a Bronx businessman and federal correctional officer, came up with a unique solution for the problem. His big idea -- to provide mobile storage for students to store gadgets during the school day. In 2010 Alcoser and his sister Theresa bought a white truck and painted the side with a blue "Pure Loyalty Electronic Device Storage" decal. Parked outside Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx, high school students flocked to the truck's small window to turn in their electronics for $1 -- two gadgets for $1.50.
"A friend called me and said her daughter was storing her cellphone in grocery stores and bodegas in the area," Alcoser tells Mashable. "[Students] were going away from the direction of school in order to do that. I thought if we brought storage closer to the schools, it would be a favor to the kids."
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The mobile gadget storage business is now booming and the owners expect to expand.
There is certainly a ready market for school-day cellphone storage: The NYC Department of Education (DOE) serves 1.1 million students in over 1,700 schools.
And unlike their suburban counterparts, New York City students generally take public transportation to school. Their commutes can rival those of adult workers in length and complexity.
Every day, Roci Cepeda travels 30 minutes each way from Brooklyn to Washington Irving High School in Manhattan.Students come in to this school from all other boroughs, arriving as early as 7 a.m.
"I need it [my phone] in case I need to communicate with someone," Cepeda says. "In case of an emergency."
Parents often want to be able to communicate with their children. Many are enthusiastic about Pure Loyalty's service.
"We have a lot of parents that call us and ask if we can come to a particular school because they want to stay in contact with their kids that are going and coming home from school," says Alcoser.
Jose Garcia, a business student at Bronx Community College, works in the truck each weekday from 7 a.m. to around 5 p.m. -- or when the last phone is returned. At schools where metal detectors have been installed at entrances, current students reported having leaving their cellphones at corner stores, delis and markets nearby where owners would watch them for $1.
It's a system Garcia is familiar with. "When I was in high school, we used to leave our phones in grocery stores," he says. "This is a brilliant idea."
The trucks are staffed with two employees at all times. Once the truck is parked and collecting phones, the vehicle never leaves, so students may retrieve their property whenever it's convenient. Phones are stored in sleeves and students are given security cards with a unique word or code to ensure correct returns. At Washington Irving, roughly 300 to 400 phones are stored each day. A other locations, Pure Loyalty collects an average of 500 to 700 gadgets a day.
Another sign of the venture's success is the number of copycat services that have sprung up since its inception.
"A lot of competition has formed based on them seeing us on the news," Alcoser says. "There are a few other companies -- I don't know licensed or insured like us."
Pure Loyalty pays insurance that protects phones if truck is lost, stolen or damaged. It has a $2 million insurance policy that covers just the phones. NYC DOE officials conducted thorough background checks on the company its staff, according to Alcoser. He says Pure Loyalty is welcomed by the city's public schools because the service keeps the students and their property safe.
"The school doesn't want the kids to leave," he said. "For them, to send the child who came to school away with a phone is not in the school's best interest."
Check out these photos of the Pure Loyalty storage truck outside Washington Irving High School:
Pure Loyalty Electronic Device Storage
A team of two parks outside Washington Irving High School in Manhattan -- one of the eight NYC locations.
This story originally published on Mashable here.