Ban On Mobiles Leads To Unusual Business Opportunity
Vernon Alcoser has cornered the mobile market at two Bronx schools, where students pay $1 a day to keep their cell phones in the trucks he parks nearby.
"It's better than trying to sneak your phone in," said Tatyana James, a freshman at Herbert H. Lehman High School who pays Alcoser's company, Pure Loyalty Electronic Device Storage, to baby-sit her BlackBerry during class.
As far as Alcoser knows, his phone storage trucks are the city's first. Parked across from Lehman on E. Tremont Ave. and DeWitt Clinton High School on Mosholu Parkway, they serve more than 700 students each day.
"It makes the students and parents feel better to know their phones are safe," said Alcoser, 38, a correction officer who lives on Webb Ave. in the Bronx.
The city Department of Education banned electronic devices in 1998, cracking down on cell phones in 2005, said spokeswoman Marge Feinberg.
But not all schools enforce the ban the same way.
For years, Lehman students brought their phones to school, hiding them during class, said Lehman junior Jenifer Espinal. But this September, the school installed metal detectors.
Alcoser hit on the idea of a mobile phone-mobile two months ago, after hearing Lehman parent Jeanette Millan complain about the ban. Her son calls to check in after football practice.
"I need to know where my child is at all times," she said. "He takes two trains and a bus to get home. It's dangerous out there."
Cell phones disrupt learning, said Feinberg. But students use their phones to stay safe and have fun after school, Alcoser said.
"I need my phone in case someone tries to hold me up or stab me," said Lehman sophomore Justin Ginorio. "I can call for help."
Tatyana, 14, is hung up on her smart phone. On her long bus ride home from school, she uses the phone to text message friends and post Twitter updates and says it "gives me something to do."
Local bodegas have provided cell phone baby-sitting for a fee since the ban went into effect. But Espinal called Pure Loyalty a safer and "more convenient" option.
To prevent theft, students are photographed with their phones every morning and use ticket stubs to retrieve them after school. Tatyana said some students sneak their phones past Lehman's metal detectors. But only parents are allowed to retrieve confiscated phones.
"I'd rather pay a dollar than take that risk," she said.
Pure Loyalty's success has surprised Alcoser, but not employee Jonathan Ortiz, who graduated from Lehman last spring. "These kids can't live without their phones."
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