By JEFF BRADY
DALLAS – In the next two minutes, four teenagers will drop out of school. The national average is one every 26 seconds.
Dallas truancy courts handle 20,000 cases every year. Many of those are referred to the juvenile justice system, which often sends the teenagers to jail.
Using satellite technology, a pilot program may be able to turn the tide on Dallas drop outs by stopping truancy in its tracks. It’s called AIM, which stands for Attendance Improvement Management. The program attempts to steer kids back on track by watching them everywhere they go.
Last year, Ricardo Pacheco was a Crips gang leader at Bryan Adams High School. He rarely went to class and was failing out of school. But today, he’s a soccer star on the same campus. He is also ready to graduate June 1.
“I’m coming to school every day, on time,” he said.
Pacheco’s secret tool has been GPS technology, which tracks his every move.
“Yeah, it helped me a lot,” he said.
Pacheco and several other students at Bryan Adams High wore ankle monitors last year. They were tracked by global positioning satellites, and that data was relayed to a monitor in the school.
This year, nine students in the tracking program carry hand held units that are about the size and shape of a cell phone. When they get to school each morning, they check in by hitting a small button three times. They do the same thing once during lunch and again when they get home each afternoon.
The signals show up as yellow dots on a website monitored by an attendant at the school. They are updated every ten minutes.
If a student isn’t at the right place, the attendant calls parents or police.
“What we’re trying to do is say, ‘We’re going to keep in touch with you,’” said retired psychologist Paul Pottinger.
He came up with the idea and contracted with a GPS technology company to design the system.
Several local donors funded it. Pottinger’s now proposing to track 450 students on two DISD campuses for about $365,000.
“It’s effective in getting the kids to show up, but the school has to work on getting them to catch up,” he said.
Faculty and staff at Bryan Adams have started a tutoring program in the form of a parent education class to stimulate support for AIM. They have initiated a Saturday classroom recovery schedule, so that students with truancy problems can make up lost school days.
“What we wanted to do was provide support for the hopelessness that many of these kids have by the time they’re truant,” said Cynthia Goodsell, the principal at Bryan Adams.
She said attendance among the GPS-assisted students is almost 100 percent.
This is the second time students at Bryan Adams have worked with the GPS truancy tracking program.
Last year, several students in truancy trouble wore ankle bracelets as part of a GPS tracking system, but critics deemed that too similar to criminal monitoring programs.
Now the system has been modified. Pottinger said he has prepared a plan to enroll 450 kids at two DISD campuses in the fall.
For Pacheco, it’s been a high-tech helping hand that kept him on track by tracking him daily.