- A&E/Undercover High
- Seven adults posed as high-school students on the A&E documentary series “Undercover High.”
- For one semester, the undercover students got a glimpse of everyday life for teenagers today – and it was nothing like how they remembered.
- They found that smartphones had changed everything for high schoolers, that pregnancy wasn’t viewed the same way as in the past, and much more.
If you could relive your high-school experience for a day, would you jump at the chance?
How about for a whole semester?
That was the premise of “Undercover High,” an A&E documentary series that followed seven adults as they posed as students at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kansas, for the spring 2017 semester.
The adults, aged 21 to 26, took classes, joined clubs, and navigated social life alongside real students to get a glimpse of what life is like for the average teenager today.
The show, which finished airing two weeks ago, made clear that high school today is nothing like what the undercover students remembered.
“High school was already hard,” said Gloria, a 26-year-old kindergarten teacher who posed as a student on the show. “But high school now, it’s a whole other level.”
For one thing, technology has transformed the way teenagers go about their lives. The undercover students found that smartphone use was rampant at Highland Park and that teachers were always fighting for students’ attention during class hours.
“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.”
Throughout the semester, the participants bonded with students who they found were similar to them.
Nicolette, a 22-year-old undercover student who got pregnant when she was in high school, discovered that for many girls at the school, pregnancy had gone from a taboo subject to something of a status symbol. She started an after-school group where students who were pregnant or parents could lend support to one another.
Jorge, an undercover student who is openly gay, bonded with a student who identified as bisexual but was reluctant to come out to most of his peers.
“There’s always that fear: What if I lose all my friends?” Jorge, 24, said.
The show’s final episode followed the undercover students as they revealed their identities and debriefed with administrators from the high school and officials from Topeka Public Schools to fill them in on their experiences and suggest improvements.
The undercover students said that at Highland Park, where more than 80% of students come from economically disadvantaged families and where many students are dealing with tragedy in their home lives, teenagers from different backgrounds could find common ground and shared experiences. Administrators said they would form a council to address how to better serve these students.
“Trauma is something that I think unites the student body,” Feldman said. “And there’s just this known feeling that I’ve gone through stuff, you’ve gone through stuff, we get each other. And I think students are searching for a trusty support system to know that they’re going to be heard.”