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20111014_DeviceLA JOYA — Campus police with the La Joya Independent School District hope to get truant students back in class utilizing GPS monitoring and student mentoring with a mobile phone device.

The Attendance Improvement Management System, or AIM, which was unveiled this week, assists district police and truant officers in keeping track of truant students.

Currently being used on a volunteer basis, the initiative also helps the district keep truant students from having to pay court fines for missing school.

The district has nearly 300 students unaccounted for as of Sept. 28. Last year, the school district had 1,200 truancy reports. Some reports were by reoccurring offenders.

Using Senate Bill 1489, which was signed June 17 and made effective Sept. 1, a school district has to address student conduct before filing a truancy complaint. This is being done to minimize referrals to juvenile courts throughout the state.

A truant, according to the bill, is a student that misses 10 or more days or parts of days within a six-month period or three or more days or parts of days within a four-week period in the same school year. Parents are not held as liable as before unless the parent had direct involvement with keeping their child from school.

School districts are now required to apply truancy prevention measures. If the prevention measures fail, the school district can then refer the individual to juvenile court with a written statement certifying that the student participated in the preventive measures, but still skipped or did not attend school.

20111014_Chief-GonzalezStudents must attend school 90 percent of the time, with unexcused absences, to meet state requirements. Students that are being targeted for the program at LJISD have an attendance rate of 75 to 80 percent. The students could be absent all day or just be missing during certain periods of the school day.

Also, by having better attendance, the school district will receive more funds from the state. While the program will cost the district $50,000 for service with 90 students, the district receives more than $8,000 per student in local and state revenues. The $50,000 investment gives the department the devices, the GPS monitoring, the coaching from the mentors, the calls, the follow-up calls, the training, and anything else they might need from AIM.

The device itself costs $400 if it is intentionally broken or lost.

Currently there are 30 students participating in the program – 10 from each high school. Each student is issued a pager device that also functions as a cell phone and GPS device.

The tracking device wakes the student up in the morning. The student later checks in when they get to school, at lunchtime, after school and at their curfew time, which is 9 p.m. If a student does not check in during one of these times, the student or parent is called.

At 9 p.m., a mentor calls the student and asks about their day. The mentor will ask the student about their homework, how they did in their class and if they need any help. AIM is trying to hire mentors within the area, but some are located in other cities, even Dallas where their main headquarters are. Most mentors have previous education experience.

LJISD has also required students sign in to each class. This ensures that the student assigned the pager is actually attending class and the pager has not been sent with a friend.

LJISD Police Chief Raul Gonzalez said the program would help put these students back on the right track. Often these students have done this before and have paid court costs in the past as well, said Gonzalez.

The students will be monitored for six weeks. Afterward, an assessment will be performed. If there is still an issue, the student could be in the program longer or sent to the juvenile court. Otherwise, the mentors continue monitoring the student throughout the remainder of the year.

Gonzalez said he doesn’t want to put any student through the juvenile program. He also said if the program succeeds this year, they could look at expanding it the following year.

“They have to be in class,” said Gonzalez. “If they’re not in class, they don’t pass. If they don’t pass, they don’t graduate.”

The program also teaches the students self-discipline and responsibility, said Gonzalez.

Gonzalez said that he wants to get these students back in school. He said data shows that four out of 10 state prisoners were high school dropouts and three out of 10 on death row were dropouts.

Luis Rodriguez, a ninth-grader at La Joya High School, has been skipping a class. He has paid court fines in previous years for not attending school. He started the program last week and has been good about attending classes since.

He had been skipping his last class because he was not able to participate. His last class is wrestling, and because he had not had his physical, he was not able to participate with the rest of the class. Instead of going to the class, Rodriguez would hang out with his friends on the soccer field.

He said the program has encouraged him to get up in the morning and stay in school all day. His mother has been his biggest motivator, he said.

Rogelio Mora, AIM area manager, said the program has been around since 2006. It started at one school in Dallas and has since been used in other cities such as San Antonio and Houston.

During the five years of operation, the company has used this program on students with 75 percent attendance rate, getting these rates up to 97 percent. The attendance rates have stayed at 94 percent even after the monitoring has stopped. The company monitored over 1,200 students last year.

While LJISD is the first one in the Rio Grande Valley to sign up for the program, the Mission school district has recently signed on to participate in the program.

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