These Fox Lane High School in Mt. Kisco and Byram Hills High School in Armonk produced a public service announcement in Spanish to encourage immigrant communities to complete the U.S. Census questionnaire.
These Fox Lane High School in Mt. Kisco and Byram Hills High School in Armonk produced a public service announcement in Spanish to encourage immigrant communities to complete the U.S. Census questionnaire. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Bedford Central School District

Students' PSA Urges 'Hard To Count' Community: Fill Out Census

Days before the COVD-19 shutdown, two student groups from Westchester high schools filmed a Spanish-speaking video to encourage immigrants and assuage their fears over privacy in completing the U.S. Census.

Since then, we've all gotten a two-week extension to April 15 and the information can be provided online here.

This week with the deadline approaching, students at Fox Lane and Byram Hills High Schools in Mt. Kisco and Armonk, respectively, are further promoting the public service announcement, asking “hard to count” neighborhoods to fill out the census.

The collaborators included members of a group in Byram Hills that calls itself Advancement Via Individual Determination who initiated a design-thinking challenge, coming up with the idea to help remove the stigma and fear among these segments of the communities in Mt. Kisco and invited the Fox Lane Global Scholars students to help, given there close ties there.

"The video is about what the census is, why it is beneficial to take it, why you shouldn't be afraid to take it, and how you take it,” said Social Studies Chairperson Jennifer Laden at Byram Hills. She is a former Fox Lane High School teacher. “They decided to partner with the Fox Lane students to, first, get feedback on their idea to see if it would alleviate the fear of the census, second, to get ideas on which community members would be most important to include, and third to ask them to participate in the video as key members of the community themselves.”

Before agreeing to partner, Fox Lane’s Diane Sarna brought the idea to her AVID seniors.

“If we were going to get on board, I wanted them to come from a place of knowledge. They had to do all the research before we even agreed,” Sarna said. “It’s a cool project with a real product for the real world, and, I think, as educators, we’re always searching for those,  so I was very willing from the start, but I knew they had to buy in.”

The Fox Lane students video chatted with Byram Hills students and asked a lot of questions. When it was over, they discussed the project further and agreed to work on it. They continued their research, watching other census videos and dissecting their style as well as looking at maps and some of the questions asked to better understand the census and the fears that may prevent people from completing it.

Byram Hills sent the Fox Lane students a script in Spanish. Most of the students in the class are fluent, but even non-Spanish speakers agreed to participate in Spanish. The class was also asked to suggest public figures who should be in the video because they would be trusted by the target audience.

“In general, that’s where a lot of our work came in for this project,” said Alexander (Sasha) Boyko. “Whereas Byram Hills students had little-to-no connections in Mount Kisco, almost all of us have some sort of connection. We recommended that we use the Mount Kisco mayor, the fire chief, the police department. We recommended Neighbors Link, the Boys and Girls Club, which is really big in Mount Kisco. That’s where a lot of our influence came in. We could help make connections.”

Aside from being an incredible community service project, students themselves gained a lot from the experience.

“Prior to this project, I didn’t really know anything about the census, to be honest. But it got me thinking,” said Richard Ruiz-Bautista. “I’m considering becoming a census taker. I went to a restaurant in Mount Kisco and they had fliers there describing doing it as a job or community service."

Sasha noted that he was struck by how much money a community can lose when residents go uncounted.

“While we were researching, one of the articles mentioned that for each person that goes unaccounted, a community can lose thousands of dollars. For a smaller community like Mount Kisco, that money could do a lot.”

The finished video will be viewed at Neighbors Link as well as on the websites and social media of Latino U, Boys and Girls Club, the Mount Kisco mayor's office, Westchester Libraries and more.

“I am so proud of both the Byram Hills and Fox Lane students for taking action that will have a direct impact on our local community,” said Laden.

Mount Kisco Mayor Gina Picinich also voiced her support of the project, saying "We appreciate these impressive students who are working to engage native Spanish speakers. Their video will help to educate an undercounted population and encourage their participation in the 2020 census."