- On A&E’s documentary series “Undercover High,” seven adults posed as students for a semester in a Kansas high school.
- Some had only graduated five years ago, and they still saw many differences in what daily life is like for high-schoolers today.
- Cell phone use is rampant — and dangerous. Teachers have less control than ever. But kids still just want someone to talk to.
High school is nothing like it used to be.
That’s the message of “Undercover High,” a documentary series on A&E that follows seven adults who pose as students for a whole semester at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kansas.
The undercover students, aged 21 to 26 when the show was filmed last year, took classes, joined clubs, and saw firsthand the struggles teenagers go through in their everyday lives. Even for the participants who graduated as little as five years ago, their return to high school was completely different than their first time around.
Here are a few seven things the undercover students learned about high-schoolers that most adults don’t realize:
Teachers have less control than ever
Social media isn’t just an after-school phenomenon. The undercover students were shocked to observe that in many Highland Park classrooms, the majority of students were on their phones for most of the time.
“You’re not supposed to have your phone out, but honestly, we don’t care,” one student said.
Beryl New, the principal of Highland Park when the show was filmed, said although social media sites are blocked on the school’s network, they are helpless to stop students from accessing them on their own devices. And teachers said it was a daily struggle to get students to focus on classwork.
Bullying doesn’t stop when the final bell rings
Another downside to technological advances is that bullying has turned into a 24/7 activity.
Worse yet, it’s almost impossible for teachers and school staff to police cyberbullying, as incidents that start in the classroom can reverberate around the school within moments and continue snowballing at home.
“Back in the day, if a child was going to be bullied, it might be one person, one incident that happens on the playground or while you’re waiting on the bus. It can be resolved and it’s pretty much the end of it,” New, the Highland Park principal, told Business Insider.
“Now it can be one person has an issue with one person and everybody else chimes in, and by the time it gets to the next day someone wants to fight, someone’s not going to school, someone is threatening suicide. It took something singular, granular even, and it’s just ballooned over night until it becomes a major issue.”