Tech tracking worth of school programs

Eight community schools in a Louisville, Ky. district are using technology

to track youth participation in after-school programs to see how they affect

a child's development and educational achievement.

In conjunction with the Academy for Educational Development, a nonprofit

education group, and with funding from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation,

the school district has installed tracking software and hardware developed

by Phoenix-based nFocus.com for the study. The project also includes six

Boys and Girls Clubs in lower income level areas of Louisville.

"The ultimate [goal is] to provide better programs and services to kids,"

said Martin Bell, deputy superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools,

which has a 95,000-student enrollment. Although there are 150 schools in

the district, the eight participating schools are the only ones open for

after-hours activities and to the entire community.

Bell, who said it only cost about $42,000 to install the tracking system,

said it's difficult to quantify and qualify how those programs affect kids.

The tracking — that is, following the attendance and number of hours spent

at a particular extracurricular activity — could help get money for programs.

"We know all the outcomes in terms of the grades, but we don't necessarily

know what the inputs are," said Don Pruitt, vice president of nFocus.com.

"We can't correlate youth involvement in extracurricular community-based

activities with dropout rates [or] teen pregnancy rates, and that's what

we're looking to do."

The company provides software to nonprofit community and government

organizations to track youth, volunteers and staff. It's the first time

it has deployed the system in a school district. With the nFocus system,

participating children receive identification cards with bar codes. When a child arrives at a school and swipes a card through a scanner, the Trax system signs him or her in, and a display

screen notifies the child of messages left by a parent or interesting activities being offered that day. Bar code

scanners throughout the facility track the child's movements and amount

of time spent at each activity, whether it's a sporting, mentoring or tutoring

activity.

Pruitt also said the system could include "sensitive" data, such as

whether a child's family uses food stamps, which may provide information

to funders about providing food programs.

Bell said the information would be input into a data warehouse to analyze

academics, attendance, dropout rates, discipline problems and relationships

with adults, mentors and employers. It will also assess children's perception

of their own impact on their future.

"Down the road, if we see a student having discipline problems [who]

is not connected with a community-based organization, that [analysis] could

help that child," said Bell, who added that the Jefferson County Government,

city of Louisville and other community organizations are supporting the

project.

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