The Anaheim Union High School District in Anaheim, California is testing a new system to keep students in the classroom. Last week, the school system started a six week program in which students carry a GPS to track their school attendance. Targeting students with higher than four unexcused absences this school year, the program provides an adult coach or mentor to keep the students in line and motivated to attend their classes.
Initially, the pilot program will consist of seventy-five 7th and 8th graders from Dale Junior High and South Junior High in Anaheim. Kristen Levitin, principal of Dale Junior High, explains, "This is their last chance at an intervention. Anything that can help these kids get to class is a good thing." The students who qualify for the program and their parents actually volunteer to carry the GPS device as an alternative to prosecution or continuation school. After all if a student is prosecuted for truancy, he or she could be sent to juvenile hall with the parent receiving a fine of up to $2,000.
During the trial, each student is given a GPS which is equivalent to the size of a cell phone. During the school week, the student will receive a daily automated phone call as a reminder that he or she is expected at school on time. After the initial reminder, the student is required to make five points of contact throughout the day: when he or she leaves for school, arrives at school, lunchtime, leaving school and 8pm at night. To check in, the student is required to enter a code on the GPS to track the current location. Additionally, the assigned adult mentor will call each student a minimum of three times a week to check in on the student's progress. If the student is still struggling, the coach will work with the student on ways to improve attendance.
The cost of the each GPS device runs an average of $300 to $400. When figured into the six week program, the GPS costs about $8 a day per student. Since a school loses approximately $35 per day for each absentee student, the program is expected to pay for itself. If a GPS is lost, parents are responsible for the cost. However, lost devices are not a high concern since it is a GPS and usually can be tracked down quickly.
The city of Anaheim is not the first place to use GPS devices to track their students. San Antonio, Texas and Baltimore, Maryland saw the average attendance among continuously absent students jump from 77% to 95% during the six week trial. However, if Anaheim schools follow suit, a slight dip in attendance is expected once the program is complete.