A new series showcases what it is like to be a student in high school – through the eyes of adults in their twenties – and now that the first episode has aired, reactions are mixed.
“Undercover High” embedded seven young adults into Topeka’s Highland Park High School during the spring 2017 semester.
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.
Cameras followed the young adults who went through background checks, extensive training and meetings with school counselors and psychologists.
The Topeka school district said in a Frequently Asked Questions sheet that no hidden cameras were used. All filming was done with camera crews. Students, staff and parents were aware the show was being filmed, and participation was voluntary.
However, only select school officials knew the ages and identities of the undercover adults.
The first of the 11-part series aired Tuesday night on A&E, and reactions are mixed after the stories of cyber-bullying, sexual threats and other struggles that high school students face were brought to light.
Some of the issues the undercover adults encountered – including social media and cyber-bullying – “was affirmation of information we already knew,” Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of Topeka schools, told the Kansas City Star. “But the level at which some of these issues impact students was, for me, eye-opening.”
Highland Park High School graduate, Alonda Udell, told WIBW that she does not want her grandson attending her alma mater after watching the first episode of “Undercover High.”
“Looking at it as now, no, absolutely not,” she said. “It makes you mad that these boys and girls, whoever, were allowed to make groups and threaten people like that.”
She was referring to a group message thread where men threatened to rape an undercover adult.
Beryl New, former principal of Highland Park, told WIBW that those men sending those messages were not students, but that it is still an issue high school students face.
Others took to Twitter to express their frustrations with students at the high school.
“How do we expect teachers to teach in these conditions?” one person asked.
“I’m not watching Undercover High but can someone explain to me how it’s ummmmmmm ethical?” another person asked.
Others, however, thought the show brought much-needed attention to the issues teachers and students face at high schools across the U.S.
“#UndercoverHigh is so important for adults to watch because it truly shows why us students are more depressed, tired, our hatred towards school; it is all here,” one person said. “An amazing and real view into our everyday life.”
“Thank you (Topeka High School) for being open and vulnerable to bringing national attention to the good, bad and the ugly of what our students and faculty are facing in our school system,” another person said.
After the filming came to an end, participants were connected with mental health experts. As the series airs, the school will provide weekly check-ins with students who were featured in the episodes, according to the school’s website.