(Originally written October, 2010)
Corporate Deals Cheapen “School Pride”
by Charles Jurries
What does it take to learn? Good teachers. Dedication to students. Most importantly, product placement.
This is the take away from NBC’s newest reality offering, School Pride.
The show, a sort of Extreme Makeover for schools, takes a run-down building and uses volunteers to fix the place back up.
Within the first few minutes of the premiere, you get a tour of Enterprise Middle School in Compton, California. The track field has gopher holes, the bathroom stalls don’t have doors, and supplies are old and worn-out. It is a school in disrepair. Within minutes I felt a sense of injustice at how worn-down the school building had become.
Following the Extreme Makeover formula, the show’s hosts come in and announce they will turn the school around in just ten days – but it will have to be all volunteer work. Even local contractors used do the work for free.
Leading the show’s volunteers is a predictable group of hosts: a SWAT leader, a former Miss USA, a comedian and a journalist. As you might expect, the SWAT guy leads the group, the former Miss USA talks to the kids, the comedian provides most of the comic relief, and the journalist helpfully explains why the schools are in such bad shape.
So this show isn’t exactly re-inventing the reality wheel here. That doesn’t mean it’s bad.
Much of the episode is framed around the teachers who we learn can teach their classes the best they can, but lack basic supplies, like construction paper and new projection screens.
It is interesting to note that the most shocking display of corruption in the school comes not from the journalist on the show, but rather, the SWAT leader, Tom Stroup.
As Stroup was exploring the building, he came upon a storage room that had almost all the supplies these teachers had been wanting for years. When Stroup asked the principle about it, all the principle could say is, he wanted to ration supplies because he knew money was tight.
The show made note mentioning that the principle has since been replaced.
Administrative corruption aside, the show is overwhelmingly a feel-good hour, with volunteers working to make dreams come true for students and teachers, who want a better building to learn in.
What dampens that happiness in the end is the revelation that major corporations were involved in making product placement deals to fund much of the projects. There is a Microsoft science lab, a People magazine reading room, and a Starters athletic field.
That isn’t to say that major corporations cannot be involved in the community and make a difference. It is a positive thing. What makes it cheap is that their involvement was never shown or revealed in any way until the end of the program, when they toured the renovated school. What you thought would be the work of many volunteers, may have been the work of a few corporations. It’s a cheapening feeling to an otherwise feel-good hour of renovation television.
There are still six episodes left in this series, and I would recommend watching future installments. Seeing schools become better, is an inspiration. Just be warned that what you see is not the entire financial picture at all.
School Pride airs Friday nights at 8 pm. on NBC.
# # #