Feb. 18, 2011 at 6:19 PM ET
Skipping class, though frowned upon, is practically a rite of passage for young teens, but thanks to an elaborate system involving GPS being used by some school districts, it is practically being eliminated completely.
The Orange County Register reports that the Anaheim Union High School District in California is currently participating in a pilot program which involves using a combination of Global Positioning System technology, automated telephone reminders, and one-on-one coaching to cut down on truancy. It's similar to programs being used in Baltimore and San Antonio.
Basically any students in the seventh- or eighth-grade who have four or more unexcused absences over the course of a school year can be put into the Anaheim program. They will be assigned a GPS tracking device about the size of a cell phone, and they'll need to use it regularly, the newspaper said:
Each morning on schooldays, [students will] get an automated phone call reminding them that they need to get to school on time.
Then, five times a day, they are required to enter a code that tracks their locations – as they leave for school, when they arrive at school, at lunchtime, when they leave school and at 8 p.m.
The students are also assigned an adult coach who calls them at least three times a week to see how they are doing and help them find effective ways to make sure they get to class on time.
It's worth noting that while this anti-truancy program is very elaborate and almost invasive, it is also entirely optional. Students and their parents are offered the chance to voluntarily participate in the "monitoring as a way to avoid continuation school or prosecution with a potential stay in juvenile hall."
On top of that, parents would also be avoiding the $2,000 fine that can come from turning a blind eye to truancy if a school district chooses to pursue the issue.
Neither students nor parents have to fret about any costs when it comes to participating in the program as the expenses — and boy, are there expenses! — are covered by a state grant for a good reason:
The GPS devices cost $300-$400 each. Overall, the six-week program costs about $8 per day for each student, or $18,000. ... Because schools lose about $35 per day for each absent student, the program can pay for itself and more if students return to class consistently.
Just how good is this program though? We weren't joking when we remarked that school districts that use the monitoring system are almost eliminating truancy entirely:
Where the GPS technology has been implemented, average attendance among the chronically truant jumped from 77 percent up to 95 percent during the six-week program.
Of course, attendance rates dip a bit as soon as students stop participating in the monitoring program. But according to Miller Sylvan, regional director for AIM Truancy Solutions, the company that makes the truancy system, at least many of the kids "learn new habits that help them."