The docuseries shot on location at Highland Park High School from January to May of this year will begin airing at 9 p.m. CST Jan. 9, according to information on the Arts and Entertainment Network’s website and Facebook page.
The 12-episode “Undercover High” will feature seven adults in their 20s, who, in some cases, changed their looks to go “undercover” as teenagers and see what life is like in a typical American high school.
Misty Kruger, spokesperson for Topeka Unified School District 501, said she and the district’s leadership finished reviewing all of the episodes in November with the production staff of Lucky8 and Learning Tree Productions, the New York-based companies that shot the video for the series.
“We still gave them feedback,” she said. “I will say it was much less as it went on. I think they really captured, you know, what is Highland Park and they captured what our students are doing, the good things as well as the challenges that they face.”
“There are some really powerful moments that you see,” Kruger continued. “It strikes me more as a parent to know that these are things that kids face every day, to know what the reality of life is for high school students. But there’s some really uplifting moments involving our staff commitment to students and obviously the love for what they do as well.”
In addition to herself, Kruger said superintendent Tiffany Anderson, deputy superintendent Larry Robbins, former Highland Park principal Beryl New and Lori Kopp, USD 501’s attorney, provided feedback on the episodes to the producers.
While Anderson is featured predominently in A&E’s promotional video footage of “Undercover High,” Kruger said Anderson has only viewed parts of each of the 12 episodes.
“She has seen bits and pieces throughout,” Kruger said, “but I wouldn’t say she has seen the full series in its totality.”
Shane Feldman, an international youth motivational speaker in his early 20s, is one of the “undercover adults” featured in “Undercover High.” He said in an interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal in October that he didn’t lie about who he was when he enrolled at Highland Park in the early part of the spring semester.
“I was essentially playing a younger version of myself,” he said then. “It was simply me as I was back in high school. The only thing I had to do is change the timeline.”
“The young adults include a former bully, victims of bullying, a teen mom, a youth motivational speaker, a set of siblings and a teen minister,” according to information provided by A&E. “Following thorough background checks, extensive training and ongoing meetings with psychologists and school counselors, these participants called Highland Park High School their new home for the Spring 2017 semester, befriending students and striving to implement positive changes to their lives and the school community.”
New, who now serves as a certified personnel manager for USD 501, said in October that she remembered feeling sick to her stomach when she viewed the first episode of the docuseries that focused on the negative use of social media.
“What it did was illustrate how cruel kids can be,” New said then. “That was just disturbing to me because that is an area of their life that I don’t see. To imagine that someone would have all these negative comments, taunts even, it just left me feeling sick.”
New said the first episode focused mainly on negative Facebook posts targeting one of the female embedded adults who posed as a student for the series.
According to an article posted on Oct. 3 on www.essense.com, the online version of Essence Magazine, the author, Feminista Jones, wrote that she had viewed the first episode of “Undercover High” in conjunction with an interview she conducted with New for the story.
“As I watched the show, I found myself caught a bit off-guard, having graduated high school twenty years ago and feeling completely disconnected from what I was seeing,” Jones wrote. “When I asked Dr. New how she felt watching some of the more explicit footage, she said ‘I feel like I’d been punched. The cruelty that occurs through social media was very disappointing…habits, language, those things that I don’t see because they see me as the building leader.”
In an early October interview with The Capital-Journal, New said the Facebook posts featured in the first episode were written by people older than 18 years. She said she looked through some databases and discovered the people who posted the comments weren’t Highland Park students and were never USD 501 students.
While she didn’t believe the comments rose to the level of a criminal threat, New said she thought they were “so ugly and evil” that she alerted a Highland Park school resource officer to look into the matter.
The Capital-Journal sent a request in October to Jaime Yandolino, an A&E spokesperson, asking to have the same opportunity Jones was afforded to view the first episode of “Undercover High” before it premieres.
“We will be re-releasing to various members of the press timed to the new premiere date,” Yandolino replied in an email. “I’ll send it to you as soon as I am able.”
“It’s a scheduling move and we’re waiting on a new air date,” Yandolino said at the time. “It’s very common. It’s not really a huge deal.”
Kruger said she was told post-production and scheduling changes led to the postponement of the series.
Earlier this month, Kruger said the date and other details are getting ironed out for an event, possibly on Jan. 8, that will involve the district’s equity council in some capacity and feature the first episode of “Undercover High.” A similar event was planned the day before the original Oct. 10 premiere but was canceled after the announcement the premiere had been postponed.
Contact reporter Angela Deines at (785) 295-1143 or @AngelaDeines on Twitter.