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Can GPS tracking devices help lower truancy rates?


For teens with a history of truancy, GPS tracking devices are a final attempt to change their behavior.

Schools in the Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD) in California are the latest to try a novel way to improve attendance: monitoring students’ whereabouts with global positioning satellite (GPS) tracking devices.

Attendance Improvement Management (AIM) Truancy Solutions has developed a walkie-talkie-sized GPS tracking device that is able to follow students’ locations.

“The program was initially started to give counselors of chronic truants a means of verifying students’ attendance and to create more accountability for the students,” said Andy Wilson of AIM Truancy Solutions.

For teens with a history of skipping class, the GPS tracking devices are a final attempt to change their behavior before they are sent out of school and into juvenile detention centers.

Some find the program to be too similar to a penal punishment system.

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“I feel like they come at us too hard, and making kids carry around something that tracks them seems extreme,” AUHSD parent Raphael Garcia told the Orange County Register.

“It’s a criminalization of kids who have trouble getting to class every day,” Belinda Escobosa Helzer, director of the Orange County office of the ACLU of Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times.

But Wilson said the program is supportive, not punitive.

“Parents and students volunteer for our program because they would like additional help and support to get their student back in school,” he said. “Also, the GPS device is a handheld mobile device no different than the cell phone most students currently carry. This device is just tool that we use for a short period of time at the beginning of our program that gets students into a steady routine, a positive behavior change.”

He added that the solution has been recognized as way to get students back on track to graduate.

The program is completely voluntary, and parents have to give permission for their children to be tracked before students are outfitted with the devices.

“The GPS device was … one aspect of an innovative process that would provide immediate and accurate information on a student,” said Wilson.

For more news about dropout prevention programs, see:

eSN Special Report: Keeping students on a path toward graduation

Successful credit recovery programs from four districts

Laura Bush announces new graduation initiative

School safety expert Patrick Fiel said the use of GPS tracking devices to curb truancy could help improve school safety.

“This is just one more way that technology—including video surveillance cameras, visitor management and emergency notification systems, and access control—can help schools handle serious problems such as truancy, bullying, vandalism, and gang activity,” said Fiel, who is a public safety advisor for ADT Security Services and the former executive director of school security for the Washington, D.C., public school system.

“Truancy can cause many problems. Kids who willingly choose to ditch school are more likely to become involved in gangs and crimes such as vandalism, theft, drug dealing, and other activities that can cost cities thousands, even millions, of dollars to police or repair. Very few cities today have the extra revenue to deal with the costs of truancy,” Fiel continued.

He also said that schools lose state funding when students miss class, and teaching students better attendance habits could prove to be a financial boon for schools.

Dale Junior High School and South Junior High School, both in AUHSD, are two of the newest schools to enroll in AIM’s program. Together, the schools have entered 32 seventh and eighth grade students into the program, said Elizabeth Novack, AUHSD superintendent. As of press time, the program had recorded only four unexcused absences since the schools enrolled. The students check in with an adult mentor, referred to as a coach, several times a week.

“We hire and train a dedicated group of coaches who develop lasting relationships with their students,” Wilson said, adding that coaches go through a strict vetting and background check and have a history of working with at-risk youth.

AUHSD is piloting the program for six weeks in response to a wave of truancy.

Novack said the schools have seen a 95- to 98-percent improvement in student attendance in the two weeks since they’ve implemented the program.

For more news about dropout prevention programs, see:

eSN Special Report: Keeping students on a path toward graduation

Successful credit recovery programs from four districts

Laura Bush announces new graduation initiative

The mobile GPS tracking devices are handheld devices, and students are required to enter an identification code several times a day: when they wake up, when they arrive at school, after lunch, and at 8 p.m. If the students are not where they are supposed to be at these times, the GPS device provides a way for them to be located.

Wilson said the technology allows students to take responsibility for their education and whereabouts.

“[It] gets students into a steady routine, a positive behavior change,” said Wilson. He also said the devices give students an excuse to “opt out” of situations where they might feel pressured by their peers.

While AUHSD is the first California district to use the GPS tracking devices to curb truancy, they also are in use in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Texas.

According to AIM, students attending schools in which the GPS devices are in place average daily attendance increases from 77 to 95 percent, and they also experience better grades and fewer behavioral issues.

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