Tech tracking value of school programs

Eight community schools in a Louisville, Ky., district are using technologyto track youth participation in after-school programs to see how they affecta child's development and educational achievement.

In conjunction with the Academy for Educational Development, a nonprofiteducation group, and with funding from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation,the school district has installed tracking software and hardware developedby Phoenix-based nFocus.com. The project also includes six Boys and GirlsClubs in lower-income 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 inthe district, the eight participating schools are the only ones open forafter-hours activities and community events.

Bell, who said it cost about $42,000 to install the tracking system,said it's difficult to quantify how those programs affect kids. But thetracking — that is, following the attendance and number of hours spent ata particular extracurricular activity — could help get money for programs.

"We can't correlate youth involvement in extracurricular community-basedactivities with dropout rates [or] teen pregnancy rates, and that's whatwe're looking to do," said Don Pruitt, vice president of nFocus.com.

With the nFocus system, children receive identification cards with barcodes. When a child arrives at a school and swipes a card through a scanner,the tracking system signs him or her in, and a display screen notifies thechild of messages left by a parent or activities being offered that day.Bar code scanners throughout the facility track the child's movements andamount of time spent at each activity.

Pruitt said the system could include "sensitive" data, such as whethera child's family uses food stamps, which may provide information about aneed for food programs.

Bell said the information will be logged into a data warehouse to analyzeacademic achievements, attendance, dropout rates, discipline problems andrelationships with adults, mentors and employers. It will also assess children'sperceptions of their own impact on their futures.

"Down the road, if we see a student having discipline problems [who]is not connected with a community-based organization, that [analysis] couldhelp that child," Bell said.

Jefferson County Government, the city of Louisville and other communityorganizations are supporting the project.

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