Dallas School System Using GPS Device To Track Truant Students

A Dallas high school is using a new GPS/wireless device in a pilot program to track truant students who are under court order to attend class. The pocket-sized GuardTrax units from NovaTracker combine cell phone and GPS tracking technology that security guard companies use to monitor security personnel in real time via the Internet.

At Bryan Adams High School, chronically truant teenagers are enrolled in the program under order of a Dallas County Truancy Court and administered by the Attendance Improvement Management (AIM) program being developed by some individual community citizens. A year ago, truant teenagers wore electronic ankle bracelets as part of another pilot study.

Now students using the GuardTrax GPS units are required to "key in" a code, indicating they have arrived at school and returned home ensuring they go to class and observe nightly curfews. At any time, a supervisor can detect a student's location in real time using Internet tracking software. A GPS "geofence" has been programmed around the campus, so, when students arrive, they trigger the GuardTrax system to report their presence. If students don't show up, administrators can pinpoint their location or call their device to coach them about the importance of complying with their court orders.

"Compared to the previous program, this GuardTrax initiative is working great," said Paul Pottinger, co-director of the AIM program at the high school. "We wanted a GPS unit that offered cell phone capability, so we wouldn't have to rely solely upon ankle-bracelet tracking. Besides, GuardTrax costs about half as much as electronic monitoring with ankle bracelets. It will keep kids in school because they know they're being monitored and can stay in phone contact, which they appreciate. The goal is to give them support that they may not get at home, help them to graduate and steer them away from a life of crime, which too many fall into if they drop out of high school."

Although the ankle bracelets showed positive results, they were disliked by some community members who said they believed the bracelets were criminalizing the teens, Pottinger said.

According to Ricardo Pacheco, 18, a former gang member and one of the students now involved in the program, "It is now easier to come to school each day, stay out of the streets and be home every night." He is about to become the first male from his father's side of the family to graduate.

Plans are to roll out the program to other schools in the fall 2008 semester, assigning the devices to an additional 600 to 800 kids.

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About the author: Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at [email protected].

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About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.