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Attendance-Tracking App Expands to 16 West Harlem Schools

By Gustavo Solis | September 24, 2014 5:50pm

WEST HARLEM — It’s 9 a.m., do you know where your children are?

It turns out there’s an app for that.

Sixteen schools in West Harlem have enrolled in a program this fall to track attendance using an app that alerts parents if their children are late or missing school — up from four schools and several after school programs that have been using the app in the last several years. 

The 16 schools, all located in districts 5 and 6, were selected because of their low attendance rates, said the organizers behind the app, Kinvolved, which puts teachers directly in contact with parents via text message any time their children are absent.

“From day one, I noticed students had extremely inconsistent attendance,” said Miriam Altman, a former teacher who founded Kinvolved. “I thought the school was reaching out to parents but many parents had no idea.”

District 5 has an attendance rate of 88 percent and district 6 is at 92 percent, according to data collected by Kinvolved. While that may seem high, a single percentage point is the equivalent of two days of school depending on class size. Schools should be at 98 percent, Altman said.

Roughly 20 percent of students across NYC miss a month of elementary school each year due to absenteeism, statistics show.

The schools that have signed on to use the app this year include:

Teacher’s College Community School

M.S. 514, New Design Middle School

P.S. 161, Pedro Albizu Campos

P.S./I.S. 210, 21st Century Academy for Community Leadership

► P.S. 192, Jacob H Schiff

P.S. 325, Adam Clayton Powell

P.S. 125, Ralph Bunche

Columbia Secondary School

► P.S. 129, John H. Finley

P.S. 36, Margaret Douglas

► J.H.S. 367, Academy for Social Action

Renaissance Leadership Academy

Urban Assembly Institute for New Technologies

Urban Assembly High School for the Performing Arts

With Kinvolved, teachers can send out text messages in English or Spanish with just the swipe of a finger to parents whose children aren't at school. Parents don't need a smartphone to use the app, they only need a phone with texting capability, Altman said. 

The app also tracks data on a daily basis so teachers can find out why students are late or absent and find ways to help them get to class. Teachers can see which days children miss the most and input reasons for each absence, said Altman, who worked with partner Alexandra Meis to develop the app.

Kinvolved got a $30,000 contribution from the West Harlem Development Corporation to expand the program, and each school will pay roughly $300 to participate, organizers said.

Kofi Boateng, executive director of West Harlem Development Corporation, said it was important to fund the program because missing time affects how students perform on tests.

“All of the greatest toys, computers, and facilities are worth nothing if the students are not there to use them,” he said. “We are focused on raising passing grades. In order to get there they need to be in school.”

Tracking data on a daily basis is a game changer, said Leona Guerrido, a parent-teacher coordinator at the Teacher’s College Community School.

Many schools track attendance on sheets of papers, send them to a computer and get the results weeks later. Waiting that long for data could be too late, she said.

In addition, while the app is aimed at keeping children in the classroom, it could also make parents more accountable, said Azora Hary, president of P.S. 125's Parent Association.

“Parents need to get involved,” said Hary, whose school has used the app for the past three years. “They need to know how their child is doing in school.”

In the time since P.S. 125 began using the app, it has seen a 5 percent decrease in tardiness and a 1.5 percent increase in attendance, principal Reginald Higgins said.

By tracking data down to how many minutes of class students have missed, Kinvolved has made parents more involved in P.S. 125, the principal added.

“We have tried other systems but Kinvolved is unique, it allows us to talk to parents about how many hours their children missed,” Higgins said.