Tuesday, January 16, marks the debut of an 11-part series on A&E called “Undercover High.” The series follows seven twenty-somethings who pose as students for a full semester at Highland Park High School in Topeka.
“One of the things that was important to us was that a viewer could see something of their own local high school in the school,” said Greg Henry, executive producer. “So we wanted to find a town that wasn’t too big but wasn’t too small, a high school that wasn’t a massive high school but not too small.”
The producers liked the idea as well that the school population is roughly a third white, a third black, and a third Hispanic. In fact, according to the producers, two of the A&E embeds are in the U.S. through the DACA program.
Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of Topeka Public Schools, insisted that the cameras not get in the way of the teachers and students who were actually trying to learn something. Anderson also wanted the school community to be aware of what was going on.
“We didn’t want anyone to feel duped, but we also wanted to say: ‘We’re going to do this together. We’ll just be in high school together,'” said Henry. “We didn’t want to hide.” Given these conditions, the title “Undercover High” may be a bit misleading, but reportedly the identity of the embedded students was not known until the end.
Among the issues the undercover students had to deal with were the dependence on social media and the reality of cyber-bullying. “[This] was affirmation of information we already knew,” said Anderson. “But the level at which some of these issues impact students was, for me, eye-opening.”
“One of the things that was sobering was the role of social media in these kids’ lives,” Henry said. “For me it is both a blessing and a curse on many levels.”
The show airs at 9 p.m. Central. For sure, it will do well in Topeka.