Can Big Brother Stop Truancy in Schools?

Photo: Tracking Truants With a GPS Monitoring Device: Students with a History of Truancy Are Being Transformed By a Novel Program in Texas

Jose Troncoso was a chronic truant, missing over a month of school by his own estimate until school officials and a county judge gave Troncoso a heart to heart conversation, and a GPS tracking device.

For the 15 year-old Troncoso, attending class at Woodlake Hills Middle School in Texas was an afterthought, an annoyance that the teen fought his mother on daily.

"It wasn't important to me," Troncoso told ABC News. "I wasn't aware of the value of school, and I didn't want to go."

His mother Debbie Troncoso said her son was headed down the wrong path, and the prospect of her son graduating high school was grim.

VIDEO: Texas program uses GPS devices to prevent students from skipping school.
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"He didn't want to go at all, and it got him in trouble," Debbie told ABC News.

Troncoso's attitude toward attending school brought him to the cusp of being sent to juvenile detention for truancy, according to Bexer County Judge Roger Lopez. Truancy is just the beginning for some according to Lopez, the start of a life of crime and expense to society that Lopez has seen time and time again. Troncoso was headed in that direction, he said, before he was given a second chance.

"They sent me to court, and Judge Lopez told me I had to take the AIM program. I didn't even know what that was," Troncoso said.

He was about to become a part of a five-year-old program, one not without its share of controversy but also one that has been gaining steam throughout Texas and the nation as the results seem overwhelmingly positive.

Attendance Improvement Management, or AIM, is a Texas-based company that designed a big brother program both technologically and socially. Students with a history of truancy, many at the final straw before being sent out of school and into juvenile detention, are given a GPS monitoring device the size of a smart phone and a counselor with the task of teaching the teens the value of attending school, while trying to give them the confidence and discipline to try to graduate with at least a high school diploma.

"My personal philosophy is that kids don't belong in a courtroom," Lopez said.

The truancy program began in Bexer County roughly six months ago Lopez said, and when he took office this year he decided to stick with it. Lopez, who holds truancy court twice a week, said students with over 10 unexcused absences are picked on a case-by-case basis if it's deemed they might do well in the program.

The AIM program has seen great success thus far throughout Dallas, where it started in 2005 by Doctor Paul Pottinger, and in San Antonio's year-old program, Lopez said. One key to that is the fact that it is more than just a monitoring program.

AIM Program Hopes Mentoring As Effective as GPS Monitoring

"Rather than just slap them with fines, this provides them with counseling services, to try and figure out what the problem is, why are they missing so much class?" Lopez said.

It's that mentoring, according to AIM's Brian Dooley, that helps keep a student in school long after the six weeks they are part of the program.

"Some programs, with just ankle monitors, those programs have limited success. As soon as the monitors come off, the students are right back to their old ways and that's pretty pointless," Dooley said. "What we do, 80 percent is coaching and mentoring."

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