Program uses GPS, mentors to keep kids from skipping school



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Posted on May 5, 2011 at 11:16 PM

Updated Monday, May 16 at 1:48 PM

DALLAS - A Dallas-based company is aiming to keep kids in school.

With parental permission, students are tracked by GPS for a six-week course on responsibility. It's working in districts from Anaheim, California to San Antonio, Texas.

But, it's not just helping kids go to class and raise their grades; it's also making money for districts.

WFAA traveled to San Antonio to look into the program that the Dallas Independent School District will soon test out themselves.

Every day at the same time and on cue, Ashley Rodriguez and Joshua Kim skipped class at San Antonio's Edison High. That was the case until there was a GPS device that tracked their location and mentors they were to keep in touch with five times a day.

"At lunch, we press the one three times and then enter," Rodriguez said. "That shows that you are at lunch at this time."

By checking in, students learn responsibility as the device alerts mentors if a student isn't in the right place at the right time.

"One time, I was coming to school and I got a text message saying, 'Your monitor isn't showing up at school; where are you at?'" Kim said.

The San Antonio Independent School District has worked with AIM Truancy Solutions, a Dallas-based company, for three semesters now. District data has showed that kids are now showing up in class 97 percent of the time.

Typically, when a student misses school frequently, a truancy officer for the San Antonio district goes door-to-door knocking, trying to figure out where the students are located. The AIM program looks to avoid just that.

"In my eighth period, I started getting straight "A"s when I started going to class," Rodriguez said.

The district saw grades go up across the board in three weeks. But, the program only lasts six weeks for each student. Will the success last?

"I was biting my nails worried they were going to fall back into some inappropriate behavior and start skipping again, but that wasn't the case," said David Udovich, with the school district.

Ninety-four percent of students kept it up, like Rodriguez.

"Out there in the real world, your mom and dad aren't going to be there to say, 'It's time to go to school; let me walk you to every class,'" Rodriguez said. "It's taught me to be dependent on myself [and] that you can do it."

But, there is also a financial incentive. When kids miss class, the state doesn't pay the district for that student that day. So, having Kim and Rodriguez in class brings in money. It's more money than the program costs, which is good news for budget-strapped districts like Dallas, which is now launching pilot programs.

San Antonio ISD says the mentors on the other end of the device is what makes the program work. Plus, it deters kids from trying to beat the system.

"It's just easier to show up to school," Kim said.

But early on, the district admits, some people misunderstood what they were doing.

"Most people's experience with the monitoring systems is with the judiciary system," Udovich said. "Trying to dispel those myths and make everyone comfortable with the program was an issue."

Now, the AIM Truancy is so popular, it's expanding there, keeping more kids out of court and keeping truancy officers from knocking on their door.

Tomorrow on News 8 at 5 p.m., Shelly Slater will take WFAA viewers inside Cary Middle School, which is one of the schools in the DISD pilot program. Get parents, teachers and students reactions.