KINGMAN - Accountability is an issue paramount in education today and it begins with the time children enter kindergarten.
Those children are assigned a nine-digit code upon entering kindergarten in the Kingman Unified School District. A code number that varies from 4-11 digits, depending on grade level, follows them throughout their secondary education years and serves as a student identification number that is punched into a keypad so the child can get his or her breakfast or lunch at school.
"Children use it in the library and for other things in the district aside from lunch," said Karma Jones, KUSD director of food services.
Use of the student ID code began about 4-5 years ago. Before its inception, a bar-coding system of accountability was used in which a code assigned to a student was scanned at a cash register and student account information was brought up on the cashier's screen, Jones said.
"When we changed our point of sales computers seven years ago, we continued using the bar code until changing to the keypad system 4-5 years ago."
Students receiving reduced-price meals and those who must pay full price have the option of paying cash, but their student ID number still is entered with the transaction to prove that student got a meal.
Young children may carry their ID number around with them on a card if they are having difficulty memorizing it.
Steve Hite, principal at Palo Christi Elementary School, said if a student does not remember his or her ID number or doesn't have it on a card, the child would go to the end of the line for breakfast or lunch until someone can take the time to look it up. That student would not go without a meal as a result.
Jones said account information accessible to school cashiers includes: if the account is paid up-to-date, which students get free or reduced-price meals, how much money is in his or her account, any limitations on the account, and even if the child has allergies to certain foods.
While the system may raise an element of controversy with some people who question whether a 5-year-old should be urged to memorize a code as long as a Social Security number, it is preferable to a fingerprint scanner that has been discussed, Jones said.
"Fingerprint-scanning technology is not quite there yet," she said.
"There have been issues raised about its reliability, and fingerprinting leads to security concerns among some parents."
The keypad system is simple for most young children because they're "little sponges" at age 5, Jones said. Cashiers have taught kindergarten children to memorize the number in a few days, and parents willing to put forth some effort at home can do the same.
"We can't use rosters with who is there," Jones said. "We must say the child ate a meal and keypads for accountability do that well."
Kari Higbee is a KUSD psychologist who works at Hualapai and La Senita elementary schools. She was asked if it's too much to expect kindergarten children to remember a nine-digit code to get their meals.
"They'll use a student number through high school, so starting them in kindergarten is good," Higbee said. "I've seen some of those children practicing on big calculators, so they're learning to incorporate both auditory and visual information in their memories.
"They can go to the front office if they forget their number or write it down on a card if they're having a hard time. It's not so much high stress for them as learning a code early on."
Young children are moving into technology at very early ages. In the past, kindergarten children would concentrate on memorizing shapes and colors, and developing socialization skills with their peers.
Is that being sacrificed today as they are prepared from the time they enter school for technology they will deal with throughout life?
"No," Higbee said. "In kindergarten there's still a lot of emphasis on learning to share.
"Our district has made a move to put counselors back in schools and gotten grants to aid in group counseling and learning socialization skills, so the emphasis is coming back. A lot of kindergarten children come in without the skills of letters, colors and numbers, so we're still starting there."