- Seven young adults went undercover as students at a Kansas high school for the documentary series “Undercover High.”
- The volunteers, ages 21 to 26, made themselves look younger, and one of them even got braces to look the part.
- They discovered issues students were going through that even the administration didn’t know about.
You couldn’t pay most people to relive their high school experiences.
But that’s exactly what seven young adults did for the new A&E documentary series “Undercover High,” which premieres Tuesday.
The show follows the seven participants, ages 21 to 26, as they pose as students at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kansas, during the spring 2017 semester.
The goal of the program is to expose the challenges of students and school staff, as well as provide administrators details students would ordinarily never share with them.
“I always wonder, what is a student not telling us that they will only tell a peer?” Tiffany Anderson, the superintendent of Topeka Public Schools, said in an early episode.
Over the semester, the young adults were exposed to bullying, sexual harassment, poverty, violence, and drug addiction, among other issues. And in some cases, administrators did not realize the extent of the problems.
“All of those topics are discussed at some level at school, but between students, the insight is just much deeper than what we would have gained otherwise,” Anderson told Business Insider.
The participants tried to look like convincing high-school students. The men shaved to look younger, while one woman, a 25-year-old named Erin, was even fitted with braces. They took a full course load and did assignments like the rest of the students.
Although the group received psychological training before the semester, nothing could prepare them for what they experienced.
As early episodes of the show indicate, cellphone use is rampant among students at the school, and social media became a greater source of pressure and stress than it had been for participants who graduated as recently as five years ago.
“The kinds of challenges that I experienced in high school along with my peers are now 24/7 issues because of technology, computers, cellphones, and social media,” Shane Feldman, an undercover student who graduated from high school in 2012, told Business Insider. “There’s no real escape.”
Issues involving social media arose quickly for the participants. One woman, a 22-year-old named Lina, caught wind of a group text in which more than 20 male students were making alarming sexual remarks about her soon after she arrived at the school.
“I think my heart kind of stopped for a minute,” she said.
She later informed the school’s principal, who discovered that some of the people in the group text weren’t even students in the school district.
“Undercover High” is an effort between A&E and Lucky 8 productions. The companies previously collaborated on the show “60 Days In,” which follows citizens who go undercover as inmates in an Atlanta jail and is now in its fourth season.
The first episode of “Undercover High” airs Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET, followed by a segment featuring a psychotherapist and an adolescent psychologist who were advisers on the show, as well as a member of a crisis text line and some of the undercover students.
Watch a preview of the series: