From the March 2010 Idaho Observer:

Homework: Persuade Your Parents to Fill Out the Census

The U.S. Census Bureau has launched an aggressive campaign targeting school children in an effort to influence their parents to participate in the 2010 Census. The program is part of a $13 billion national public information effort, and will reach about 56 million students in 118,000 schools.

The plan is to disseminate posters, maps, teaching guides and lesson plans to every school in the nation, Puerto Rico and U.S. island territories. The Bureau is also helping schools plan for a Census Week to be held sometime between January and March, before the Census questionnaires are delivered to residential addresses in mid-March. During Census Week, teachers will spend 15 minutes each day addressing topics such as civic participation, confidentiality or geography. Extensive lesson plans for grades K-12 were designed with the help of Scholastic, Inc. to integrate census-related information into subjects such as history and math. The aim is to teach students and their families about the importance of the census in U.S history and current events.

The 2010 theme, “It’s About Us,” is meant to emphasize the benefits of Census participation. Census population counts determine states’ representation in Congress and how approximately $435 billion in federal money will be divvied up for spending on schools, roads, and law enforcement.

“It’s great to reach the children because children are such strong voices in their homes,” said Renee Jefferson-Copeland, chief of the Census in Schools program. “In households that are linguistically isolated, they can express the information to their parents.” Chicago alderman Toni Preckwinkle went even further, telling the Chicago Defender that “if a parent is unable to complete the census form, a student could fill it out since there are only 10 questions” (12-10-09).

Indeed the “linguistically isolated” and other “hard-to-count” populations such as low-income families are a special target of the Census information and promotion campaign. Major differences between the 2000 and 2010 Census in Schools program demonstrate the focus on persons who don’t speak English well. They include take-home materials now translated into 28 languages, expansion of the program through 12th grade in Puerto Rico, and new materials prepared for English as Second Language programs. Census officials are also providing Head Start directors with training on how to encourage parents who use their services to participate in the census. Head Start, a preschool program that promotes school readiness for low-income children, is federally-funded, so its providers have a vested interest in having more of its target population counted. “On a selfish note, it’s going to affect the federal dollars for us,” said Hidalgo County Head Start family services director Irma Pena in Texas. “If we’re able to get an accurate count, we’ll be able to provide more services to more children.” (The Monitor, 1-15-10)

The campaign also explicitly urges children to be active agents in dispelling any uneasiness their parents may have in filling out the census forms. Children at Nova Blanche Forman Elementary in Florida performed a skit for their peers as part of a Census kick-off event. The skit portrayed a child who persuaded his wary family to allow a census worker into their home. Despite their apprehension, the parents sit with the census representative and allow her to help them fill out the form. (Households that do not return the forms in the mail can expect a visit from a census worker between April and July.)

Kids can’t help but notice that the Census in Schools events are meant to be a big a deal because guests often include government bureaucrats, census representatives, school officials, and even Sesame Street characters. Bancroft Elementary in Wilmington, Delaware recently hosted Governor Jack Markell, Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), and U.S. Census Director Robert Groves, along with Count von Count and Rosita of Sesame Street at their launch event.

Mayor Richard Daley spoke to students at Chicago’s King College Preparatory High School about the importance of their involvement in the census. King High School junior Shemiah Curry, 16, attended the event and took the message to heart. “We have a responsibility as students to make sure that everyone participates in the census because the results . . . will affect our future,” she said. “As King students we are taught to be future leaders. So getting involved in something that will help shape our future is the first step in showing leadership." Curry suggested that students not only participate in the survey, but also volunteer for the census and encourage others to participate.

Source: Education Reporter. February 2010, a newspaper of education rights published by Eagle Forum, PO Box 618, Alton, IL 62002 phone: 618-462-5415

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