By Meranda Watling
March 15, 2009
LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Jefferson High School administrators have a new way to get students to move along between classes rather than congregate in the hallway.
In the past week, the school installed a "mosquito." The $800 machine, developed in Wales, emits a high-pitched noise that teens can hear but most adults over 25 can't.
The idea is to keep students flowing rather than block the stairs and elevator in one particular first-floor hallway.
"We don't mind if students are congregating," said assistant principal Roger Francis, who came up with the idea after seeing the product last summer at a school safety conference. "In different areas, it's fine. But this creates an issue of, in an emergency, we couldn't get through."
To 17-year-old junior Ginell Carswell, the noise emitted in the hall near the radio-TV department "sounds like nails on a chalkboard."
"It's extremely squeaky," Carswell said. "I hold my ears when I walk by."
But for Jeff staff, who say that particular hallway has been a bottleneck for years, the point is students are walking by and not stopping to chat there. There are no plans to install more machines.
Although the noise hasn't completely eased the congestion in the hall, some students say it has helped.
"Before, I couldn't get to my class – no way, no how. It was clogged all down the hall," sophomore Skylar Sanders said. "... I think it's a good idea. I know I'm not late to class anymore."
The mosquito was initially created to deter groups of teens from hanging out near shops in the United Kingdom. It's been used throughout Europe, Canada and is gaining in popularity in the U.S., said Mike Gibson, president of MosquitoGroup.com, which sells the machine.
Gibson said Jeff's use "is actually a unique deployment." Mostly, he said, schools use the machine outside to discourage vandalism at night or in the parking lot after sporting events to encourage rowdy crowds to disperse.
Lata Krishnan, director of the Audiology Clinic at Purdue University, said the machine works on the premise that as you age you lose some hearing ability. Typically, first to go are higher frequencies.
She said, according to the company's documentation, the loudness of the sound and the duration seem to be within safe limits.
"The level as well as the duration of the sound are important when considering the 'safety' of the noise," Krishnan said. "It appears that the company has considered the level of the sound."
The school didn't initially tell students about the machine, Francis said. They wanted to just see if it worked.
"I didn't know what it was, I thought something was wrong with the school," 16-year-old Stephanie Gonzalez said. "It gets annoying, but I think it helps a little bit."
However, not every student – such as Gonzalez's 16-year-old cousin, Brenda Gonzalez – can hear the noise. And some, including 17-year-old Levi Hawkins said, "I've learned to block it out."
Not every adult is immune, either.
Kelly Kerns teaches English in the only classroom within hearing distance of the machine. She's 33 years old but said she can hear the squeal, which sounds like ringing in your ear: "It's annoying, but it doesn't hurt."
Plus, she's already noticed some benefits. She used to have to tell people not to stand in her doorway. Not anymore.
"I think it definitely helps to deter them," she said. "I don't know that I necessarily like the method, but the result ... it is getting them to move."