Attendance Goes Digital Next Year With Key Cards

By Nicole Vickers, Website Editor

Lately, people have been noticing ports in walls inside of classrooms. Rumors have been swirling about what they might mean for AHS, and rightfully so, as AHS infrastructure will experience fundamental changes this upcoming school year.

Starting the 2017-2018 school year, students will be responsible for carrying ID cards to check in at various locations in the school. The cards will need to be tapped against a card reader, similar to the MARTA, when a student enters certain parts of the building. The card can be kept on a lanyard, in wallets, or even on the back of a student’s phone.

“So if you look around the building, you’ll see little numbers and that’s where they’ll be placed. So inside every classroom, and all the offices, in the media center, in the cafeteria, gyms, all over school. So they’re really all around the building. We have close to 190 of them that will be installed,” Derek Wright, AHS Administrative Assistant, said.

This program is unique to AHS, and it is estimated to cost about $170,000, including all the technology and the individual cards for each student.  Administration hopes that the key cards will allow for more student autonomy, while still being able to locate students whenever necessary.

“During Anchor Time for example, there are all these emails going around all the time from teachers about where students are for that day; it’s just not practical, and in the event of an emergency, it would be very difficult for us to say to a parent ‘Yes, your student was here, on this day, at this time, during this emergency.’ So these were the things that were giving us some angst, because we want students to have flexibility, but we also have responsibility,” Dr. Shannon Kersey, AHS principal, said.

AHS is a charter school capable of making changes and decisions independent from other high schools in the county. Instead of a county making decisions for all schools in the district, AHS has a School Governance Council (SGC) comprised of students, staff, parents, and administration, and the SGC has to get their ideas approved by the county.

One of the biggest changes the SGC is responsible for is the open campus. AHS is the only school in the county with an open campus, which means, in short, that students with special permission are able to come to school, leave for lunch or online or college classes, and then come back.

However, because AHS is a government building, responsible for the well being of over 2,000 students, the open campus did not come without compromise, which lead to the key cards.  

“They granted us [open campus], but along with that, they said that we had to have a secure way of taking attendance,” Rebecca Perkins, AHS Assistant Principal, said.

Three of the most common concerns amongst students is whether they would be marked late if they were excused, what would happen if they lost their card, and whether they would be able to take advantage of the system by sending a friend in to tap their card. However, teachers will still be taking manual attendance that can override the attendance being taken by the key card system, so a student’s accurate attendance standing can still be recorded, even if it conflicts with the system.   

According to Dr. Kersey, there will be significant consequences for people tapping into class for another student.

“That would be likened to students writing fake passes, students plagiarizing notes. That’s dishonesty, that’s a violation to the code of conduct and there would certainly be some disciplinary consequences. My philosophy has always been grounded in that I know our students, and the majority of students at our school want to do the right thing. I wanted to build the school for those students. We are always going to have students that break rules; there’s a small percentage of students that do, but I didn’t want this to stand in the way of making this school the school that our students have asked us for,” Dr. Kersey said.

Thanks to the key cards, AHS is hoping to become a safer, more open campus. For example, if there is an intruder in the school, and someone is not in their classroom for lockdown, the computer system can locate the student and measures can made to ensure that individual’s specific safety.

“We want to create an atmosphere, where if you want to go to the media center, and your teacher says yes, he or she doesn’t have to stop class and write you a pass. You can just freely walk down there and tap in. And if there was an emergency at your house and your parents needed to say where you were, we could say, ‘She’s in the media center.’ We wouldn’t have to send someone to your class, and go, ‘Oh she’s not there.’ We’d be able to tell immediately where you are and get that message to you and all would be well,” Perkins said.

The students, in some ways, will also benefit from the key card system. Currently, students are not allowed to hang out in the hallways in the mornings but this may be a possibility next year, thanks to the key card system. In addition, off-campus lunches on Tuesdays and Thursdays may be extended to juniors, as the key cards put near doors will make it easier to keep track of so many students leaving campus. In addition, an incentive program is in the works.

“We want to increase attendance at events by coming up with a point system. So if you go to a drama event, or a fine arts concert, or a sports game, you would swipe in just to get points, showing that you’re trying to support your school and you have spirit. I’m not exactly sure how that’s going to work, we haven’t worked out all of those kinks, but we’re hoping that it will be something positive as well,” Perkins said.

The key cards are not the only new safety initiative for the upcoming school year.

“The district has a five year plan to improve and increase the video surveillance in the schools, and we’re in the first round, so this summer, not only will we be getting this new monitoring system, but we’re also going to be getting a brand new camera system. And it is phenomenal,” Dr. Kersey said.

Despite all of these upcoming security changes, the SGC also advocates for programs that directly make school more enjoyable, although they are harder to get approved by the county.

“We feel like our top band and orchestra, chorus and drama should receive an additional seven points. We feel like they’re on par with college courses, and they’re honor’s level. We asked for that last year and they shot us down, so we asked for that again. For this year’s seed fund, we asked for a music center and we hope that it is approved. It’s going to have all state of the art keyboards and recording,” Perkins said.

All in all, life at AHS will be very different next school year. This is due to the growing options of our times.

“High school’s changing. It is not the way it used to be when our parents were here, and if we try to keep this traditional lockdown, ‘You have to go to all six classes on campus,’ students are just going to choose to go somewhere else. So our goal as the School Governance Council, my goal as the principal, is to create a school where our students want to be here. So part of it’s got to be great teachers, excellent programs, and rigor, but it also has to be flexible and fun, and it has to help our students really have a sense of independence and autonomy and when students have choice of virtual schools, when students have choices of colleges, we have to build a school culture where students can do the similar types of things here. But we still have to stay safe, and I still have to take attendance,” Dr. Kersey said.

Photo Credits: ScholarChip

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