Canton Students Use Social Marketing To Prevent Stereotyping and Help Make Their Schools Safer
In Canton, OH, school allegiances run deep in the community, with supporters of the community’s two high schools, McKinley and Timken, each viewing their cross-town rival through academic, racial, and social prisms. McKinley High School traditionally has been viewed as academically oriented and the natural choice of college-bound students. Timken High School has long been pegged as a trade school, characterized by fewer resources and a larger African American population.
More problematic than just influencing students’ decisions on which school to attend, these stereotypes have had a detrimental effect on the learning environment and school safety by sanctioning mistrust and hostility among Canton’s youth.
Through a partnership with a local university, Canton students and the Canton SS/HS initiative implemented a social marketing campaign to change the way the community views the two schools and the students who attend them. The “Dodge the Stereotypes” social marketing campaign addresses this perennial issue—the misperception and stereotyping of two high schools and the students who attend them.
Breaking down the stereotypes and misconceptions students carry about their peers teaches youth not to prejudge and helps them make their own decisions based on facts. This supports the larger goal of the Canton City Schools’ (CCS) SS/HS initiative by promoting student resiliency and helping to make Canton’s schools safe, positive environments for young people. In leading this social marketing campaign, Canton students have become an essential part of sustaining the work of the SS/HS initiative by taking ownership and having a vested interest in the process of change in their schools and community.
The CCS campaign began in June 2004, when approximately 30 high school students from the Canton Young Leaders program attended a Leadership Institute at Walsh University. While there, students discovered more about their values and beliefs and how to harness them as a force for positive change in their community and schools. The next step for students attending the camp was to apply what they had learned to a project that served others.
Recognizing that the students’ experience at the Walsh Leadership Institute complemented the goals of Canton’s SS/HS initiative, Susan Ross, the Students Against a Violent Environment (SAVE) coordinator of the SS/HS initiative, saw an opportunity to link the students’ work to the goals of the SS/HS initiative. They decided to use a social marketing campaign to promote the initiative’s goals and to involve students in the process of making their schools safer.
“As the kids processed stereotypes about the other school,” said Ms. Ross, “They found that so many of them were the same.”
Agreeing that stereotyping was having negative effect on their schools’ climate, the students decided to focus their social marketing campaign on preventing it. The students worked on the campaign over the course of the 2004-05 school year. By targeting middle school students, Canton’s newest social marketers sought to counter the stereotypes around the two high schools before the middle school students made their decision about which school to attend. These students also hoped to improve the learning environment and help create safer schools.
The Canton Young Leaders program produced six video public service announcements (PSAs) for the campaign with assistance from CCS’s cable channel. Based on the themes of getting the facts and making your own decisions, the students created the tagline “Dodge the Stereotypes” for the social marketing campaign. One PSA used a game of dodge ball to illustrate the effects of stereotyping. Another PSA showed a parent whose impression shifts upon visiting one of the schools. The students also scripted “news shows” to reflect some of the myths or stereotypes about the high schools and to counter misconceptions with facts from CCS’s school climate survey.
The local cable channel aired the PSAs throughout the community. In April 2005, three students involved in the campaign and a representative of the Walsh Leadership Institute appeared on the channel’s weekly Chalk Talk show to discuss the social marketing effort and to present the PSAs. Students from the Canton Youth Leadership program then took their handiwork to community decision-makers. The team presented the PSAs to Canton’s superintendent and administrative team and to Walsh’s president, all of whom greeted the effort enthusiastically.
Ms. Ross says the social marketing campaign already has had an important effect. For the students, it has helped dispel the outdated academic and race-based stereotypes that can affect kids’ decisions about which school to attend.
“When our students are actively involved and engaged in creating the culture of our school, they have ownership, a sense of purpose, and a connection to the school,” said Ms. Ross. “The students’ participation in leadership and service is directly related to building developmental assets and supporting resiliency in our youth. I believe the impact of the students’ contribution to sustaining the work of the grant is [positively] changing the culture. It is long overdue.”
Communities on the Road to Success: Canton, OH
The Canton City Schools Students First project uses a CARE team to help at-risk middle school students identify and prioritize their mental health and academic needs. CARE team members include a therapist, drug and alcohol tutor/mentor coordinator, school resource officer, truancy officer, and family involvement coordinator. The program also provides staff development in mental health and intervention issues, including the Choice Theory approach, instructional planning for engaging students, and the intervention pyramid.