Targeting student audiences

Thursday, August 17, 2006

With school beginning this week, a proposed promotion aimed at school-aged children caught our attention. A new company, BusRadio, has created a private radio network that plays music, public service announcements and ads aimed at students. The company, based in Massachusetts, is offering to pipe this station into school buses, and in return, school districts will receive free custom-designed equipment. BusRadio executives will begin operating in Massachusetts this fall and hope to go nationwide by September of 2007. BusRadio is owned by the same men who created Cover Concepts, a company that provides schools with millions of free book covers printed with ads for national advertisers.

BusRadio is similar in concept to Channel One, which provides schools with daily 12-minute news programs in exchange for pricey electronic equipment. Channel One has been in schools for a number of years. According to the Channel One website, the news program is viewed by more than 7 million teenagers a day in more than 11,000 high schools and junior highs across the country. Districts contract with Channel One for the programming. Schools agree to have 90 percent of the students watch the program in its entirety in exchange for $50,000 worth of electronic equipment, which includes color televisions, VCRs and a satellite dish. If schools stop broadcasting Channel One, they must return the equipment.

In all of these cases, companies make their money by selling advertising. There is nothing wrong with this practice except for the fact that these companies are taking advantage of captive audiences. The radio and TV broadcasts are aired whether or not the student wants to listen and watch. The student is trapped in the bus or contained in a classroom while the programs are broadcast. In a way, the content and advertising is forced upon them.

Our young people are barraged with ads on the internet and on television, and I believe school districts need to weigh the educational value of these services against the equipment they will receive. I also think school districts need to vigilantly watch content of all programming that is broadcast on school property during school hours. We're not against all such programs but believe contracts with these companies should be entered into only after careful consideration.

We've watched Channel One and believe it provides students with an awareness of current events and broadens their view of the world. We also did a little research and found its news coverage has won several awards for excellence.

We can also see the value in Newspaper in Education (NIE) programs. Through NIE, local businesses sponsor a classroom and pay for students to receive the newspaper, which is then utilized by teachers to supplement their curriculum where applicable. Newspapers can be used to teach students about local government, about different writing styles and other topics of educational value.

As with any commercial-supported product, it's also important that students and teachers openly discuss what they're watching, listening to and reading. Is the information factual? Is it biased? Do the commercials or advertising affect content?

As parents, we can also get more involved in what's going on in our child's school day. Ask questions, keep in touch with teachers, pay attention to what your child is studying.

It's a proven fact that involved parents can positively influence their child's school experience. Why not start the new school year off right by staying in tune with your student and keeping those lines of communication open.