A new documentary series recently aired on A&E called Undercover High. It follows 7 young adults (25 and under) who go back to High School in Topeka, Kansas to see what it is like to be a teen today. They acted like normal students while attending classes, making friends and participating in school clubs and activities, according to the show’s website. Each “student” – a youth pastor, former teen mom and others – was tasked with enacting positive change. What they saw, heard and experienced became an 11-part documentary series.
Of course this is one high school, in one part of the country, but the producers carefully selected one that was diverse and represented the country the best possible. Racially, the student body is one-third black, one-third Hispanic and one-third white. Before you dismiss this show because it isn't in your town, I believe there may be something for adults and parents to learn here.
So far, some of the issues that surfaced include prolific use of social media, constant cyber-bullying, sexism, and racism. The most shocking thing to me from episode one, "Would you go back?", is something that happened to 22-year-old Lina. Soon after she arrived to the new school she became the subject of a group text of a bunch of boys joking about who was going to have sex with her first. Not only that, one boy said he would rape her to be the first one to get her. The boys were competing to get the new "fresh meat" in school.
I was alarmed to hear that rape was being joked about. Lina quickly informed administration at the school of the incident in which they said the person who texted about rape was not a student at that school. Regardless, there were students that were in the group chat that thought it was okay to talk about the new girl in such a sexual way and these were young men treated a woman like an object.
On another note, I was concerned by how many students used cell phones during class and were unable to unplug from them throughout their school day. Not listening to teachers and their lessons and being constantly distracted by their devices. This concerns me as an educator. I'm curious about your thoughts? Please share your comments below.
The second episode, "Race to the Finish", was about Winter Royalty, Highland Park High School’s first big event of the Spring Semester, and a chance for the undercover adults to better understand the school’s racially diverse community. Kids competed against each other to be crowned king or queen. The most popular kids seem to be the athletic ones in sports like basketball. One girl nominated was African-American and on the basketball team and another girl was Hispanic and considered the underdog. Despite who everyone believed would win, the Hispanic girl was crowned. She couldn't believe she won and was happy for about 10 minutes till social media and group texts took over to steal her thunder. "I can't believe she won, those Mexicans must of rigged it", said one student. Several students were talking about what happened and thought Tiana, the other nominee, should have been the winner.
This made me think. How do we help young people protect their self-esteem and confidence in moments like these? Not everyone is going to like you, be kind, or think you deserve things you've worked hard for. There will always be haters. Maybe the comfort is in knowing that this may happen. To not take in personally and to not let it steal your thunder. Adults can share their own stories of this happening to them to help young people know it is survivable. That actually when you are doing well there will always be others that will try to bring you down, but you don't have to let them!
I'll keep watching and keep you posted on other issues that surface in the series or watch for yourself here.
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