A&E Cable Channel Plans High School Documentary Series

By Mark Walsh — May 18, 2017 2 min read
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“Hey, aren’t you a little old to be a student here?”

That may be something heard in a new—and somewhat unconventional—documentary series about an American high school coming to cable TV.

The as-yet unnamed show will appear on the A&E cable channel after filming took place at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kan., during the spring semester this year. The unconventional factor is that the show will follow seven young adults—reportedly ages 21 to 26—who have “personal motivations” for embedding in the school and acting like students, the channel says.

“Highland Park High School is emblematic of schools across America today,” Elaine Frontain Bryant, A&E’s executive vice president and head of programming, said in a news release. “Through immersive content and unprecedented access, viewers return to high school for a unique look into life as an American teen today, a topic at the forefront of today’s cultural conversation.”

The Topeka Capital-Journal had a story this week that quoted a Topeka school district spokeswoman and the principal of Highland Park High as revealing that the participants include a teacher, a youth minister, a motivational speaker, and others who are part of causes to help struggling high school students.

The seven “embedded” students were all vetted with background checks and screenings by the production and the school system. The “students” went to classes, did homework, and took tests (though not state achievement tests), the Capital-Journal said. Most teachers and students did not know the participants were actually young adults, but if the participants were asked about it, they had to be forthcoming, Topeka district spokeswoman Misty Kruger told the Capital-Journal.

The Topeka district is led by Superintendent Tiffany Anderson, who was one of Education Week‘s 2015 Leaders to Learn From when she led a Missouri district.

(The premise does remind me of a San Francisco Chronicle series quite some time ago in which a 26-year-old reporter removed her wedding ring and tried to blend in as an undercover high school student. Students were quickly dubious, saying “Hi, narc” when they passed her in the halls.)

Highland Park High School Principal Beryl New told the Capital-Journal said she only agreed to allow the project after producers assured her it would be “a good thing” and not damaging to the school. The newspaper said the production would donate an unspecified amount of money to the Topeka Public Schools Foundation for scholarships, as well as donating some video equipment and helping teach some master classes in a career education program.

A&E is known for such reality shows as “Storage Wars, “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” and “Born This Way,” an Emmy Award-winning series about seven young adults born with Down syndrome.

The network said in a May 15 release that the title and airdate for the show will be released shortly.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.