Posted On: August 27th, 2012
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The new school year is bringing a brand new truancy program to the Austin school district that no one else in Central Texas has tried.
A combination of GPS technology and mentors will be used to try and keep kids, who have a history of skipping class, out of court and in school.
"We were looking for something innovative, unique -- something that we hadn't done before," said Lisa Goodnow, former Interim Director of High Schools for the Austin Independent School District.
With parent permission, up to 1,700 students across eight high schools will be equipped with a GPS device that looks a lot like a cell phone. They will also be teamed up with a mentor who they have to check-in with using the device several times a day.
The mentors call students several times a week to talk about what's going on in school.
Austin high schools participating:
•Eastside Memorial HS
•LBJ Early College HS
•Reagan Early College HS
The program is run by a Dallas-based company called AIM Truancy Solutions . They have raised attendance rates in several Texas school districts and ran a pilot program with 75 students at Eastside Memorial High School last school year.
KXAN News first learned about the device in February 2011 when the company was pushing the product at an educator's conference in Austin.
Monica Lira served as an AIM Truancy Solutions mentor for some of the students at Eastside Memorial, and made her motive very clear.
"I'm not here to discipline you, or to get onto you about stuff," said Lira. "Overall, you just want them to succeed," said Lira.
The mentors serve as cheerleaders for the students and try to figure out what is causing the kids to miss so many days.
"I had a student last year, his mom told me it was because he wasn't a good test taker so we had to come up with solutions," said Lira. "[I said] let's work on study habits so you can go to class and pass those tests."
When results for the pilot program were in, average attendance for kids in the program at Eastside Memorial jumped from 78 percent to 90 percent. Twelve out of thirteen seniors in program graduated. The district says the one student that did not graduate moved away before the end of the school year.
"It's hard to say for sure the students wouldn't have made it, but I think that we're beginning to see results that suggest that it was a critical component," said Goodnow.
The school district says the program is not costing taxpayers one dime. AIM Truancy Solutions will only get paid if they improve attendance for the students they work with. Most of the state money the district was losing because those kids were absent will now go to the company.
Some of the Texas school districts who use the program:
•San Antonio ISD
•La Joya ISD