Marketers tend to seek insights about adolescents outside the classroom – in their culture, in their extracurriculars, etc. But sometimes it’s easy to forget just how much time youth spend in schools during the day. As it should be (at least we think), these spaces are considered sacred and generally off-limits to non-academic researchers. However, understanding their attitudes towards school can shed light on the state of mind and on the characteristics of this cohort. What engages them intellectually? What does it feel like to walk through the hallways of their own schools? And, how do they view the adults they interact with almost everyday of their lives?
In a July 2012 study of 981 high school students (an equal mix of freshman, sophomores, juniors and seniors), C+R Research found that some things never change, but of course, this creative and connected generation may be perceiving and experiencing school life differently than we might think.
We asked our survey respondents to choose the three words that best describe their school. Overwhelmingly, teens described their schools as “competitive” and “challenging,” but also “friendly” and “interesting.” Over 50% of freshmen say that science or math is their favorite subject – but only 32% of seniors share this sentiment. And, when it comes to food in the cafeteria? Boys and girls both agree that the options better suit the boys’ tastes than the girls’.
Recently we’ve taken to watching the documentary series, “Kindergarten” on HBO Family. Like the series, “High School,” before it, this tot doc shows how 5- and 6- year-olds handle the big transition from home to school – following a real-life kindergarten classroom from day one to the “moving on” ceremony. A view of this show reminds us what really gets little guys going and how a thoughtful teacher can engage and invite even the most timid early learners. (My own four-year-old is riveted!)
Knowing what their everyday lives are really like further contextualizes their out of school time (are we surprised that some kids want to lounge on the couch, after seeing the rigorous schedule they keep at many schools?). Knowing what topics they care about in school can inspire innovation even more than an investigation of what they already do after school. And knowing about their school day makes the causes they care about outside of school make more sense. So next time you want to understand eating, viewing or participating in sports, start with what’s going on in the place where youth spend most of their hours. You may find that what happens in school is closer to their hearts than you might have thought.