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April 27, 2010

Most people will agree that students should continue their educations past high school. However, not everyone agrees on how to spread that message.

Last October, the State Department of Education launched an initiative in partnership with Learn More Indiana — an organization funded by two private foundations that partners four state agencies — to encourage more high school students to pursue some form of post-secondary education. The program, called College GO! Week, was designed to promote planning for college.

College GO! Week consisted of several activities, which included asking students to fill out a survey, take the PSAT (if sophomores) and learn about the college application process. But one component of the program — the posters used to promote it — raised questions at some schools.

Some teachers felt that the posters could be perceived as racist or elitist, while others felt that they were demeaning to the people holding blue-collar jobs.

The posters, which came in sets of four, depicted a range of individuals — an African-American woman, a Hispanic man, an Asian woman, and an elderly Caucasian man —performing a variety of minimum wage jobs, including working in a coffee shop, a fast food restaurant, a movie theater and a supermarket. The tagline was, “This high school grad does this 40 hours a week. Could you? Make sure your high school job stays in high school.”

Elizabeth Crouch, public relations and media coordinator for Learn More Indiana, explained the thinking behind the poster design. “We know that a lot of high school students have those jobs, and so we’re saying, ‘OK, you take these three steps every day, right now. But once you graduate high school and you go onto college and you get a degree, you don’t have to earn minimum wage, which in most cases those jobs are minimum wage.’”

Jason Bearce, associate commissioner for strategic communications and initiatives at the Indiana Commission for Higher Learning, added that some of the profiled jobs might seem attractive to students. “The jobs we picked specifically because they might seem like a really fun job to have while you’re in high school. Who wouldn’t want to work in a movie theater or a coffee shop? But do you necessarily want to be tearing tickets or refilling coffee day after day if you’re not going to make much more above minimum wage?” he said.

The posters were sent to 575 high schools in the state. “The point was to get students to stop and look at them, think for a second and then visit our website for more information,” said Crouch.

One of the schools that received the posters was Providence Cristo Rey High School in downtown Indianapolis. Cristo Rey, a parochial college-prep charter school, refused to put up the posters after teachers voiced their concerns that the posters could be seen as promoting stereotypes.

Interestingly enough, some students didn’t have an issue with them.

“I kind of like them because they show that it’s not just any one race that has problems,” explained Alonzo Webb, a sophomore at Cristo Rey.

Whitney Baird, a junior, agreed. “It would’ve been a good idea to put them up because it would also give some kids who probably don’t have their grades together in school some more motivation to keep them up.”

Others agreed that the posters may have swayed some students to work harder in school. “For this school in particular, I think that maybe they should’ve been put up because some students at this school, they really don’t get it yet, that this could be what they could be doing for the rest of their life,” said Montanea Daniels, a junior.

Indianapolis Public Schools' Key Learning Community was another school that did not display the posters, though only because the school was on break during College GO! Week. Although some students said the drawings might be offensive to some, the message was good.

Henry Bronson, a junior at Key, believes the school’s decision has its merits. “Not everyone who doesn’t go to college works in a fast food restaurant, grocery store or valet service,” he said. “Some people who don’t go to college go on a totally different path and are very successful in their life and do what they want to do. Maybe they’re not fit for school and they go out and maybe start a nonprofit organization that helps the world in a huge way.”

However, not all of Key’s students took issue with the posters. Carlos Jennings, also a junior, said that while there are certainly exceptions, the posters are realistic. “These posters might be kind of stereotypical, but it’s really true,” he said. “It’s not lying to the people, just how it is if you don’t go to college and you just graduate from high school.”

Crouch said overall, the posters met with mixed reviews. “There was all sorts of feedback. There were people who loved them and thought that students really took notice because it’s reality. There were also people who felt a little bit offended by them,” she said.

Nevertheless, the posters did achieve their objective. “They got people talking about the expectations for college and high school, which was the real goal of the whole campaign,” said Bearce. “I think it’s also important to remember this is a campaign. It wasn’t just about posters. It was about moving students from awareness to action.”

ASSISTANT EDITORS: Grace Bronson, 17; Keenen Brannon, 16; Charlie Osborne, 14
REPORTERS: Shanze Tahir, 12; Carmela Verderame, 10

Copryright 2010 Y-Press

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