OREGON – For a sophomore in high school, Maya Key certainly knows a lot about the upcoming U.S. census.
“I personally like government, so it was always an interest of mine,” she said.
She is not alone. The 13 students in the Open Program at Oregon High School are all getting an education in the census this year, and are spreading that knowledge to get as many people in the area to fill out the census form as possible.
“They have been doing a really nice job of working together and trying to do events that will reach different kinds of people,” said teacher Kim Radostits.
The open program is like a self-taught classroom – with guidance from teachers. There is a math and English portion, and in the second semester a community project.
“In the past, these community service projects were typically individualized – each student would pick a passion project that they would then do to support the community,” Radostits said.
This year, someone from NIU pitched the census idea and as a group the class decided to take it on.
“We figured it’s a once in every 10-year opportunity, so we figured why not try it?” Key said.
The students all have different jobs. There are news liaisons – Key and Liam Dickson-Harriett
Event planners, writers, presenters and data people who crunch the numbers on who has and hasn’t been reached.
“They have been doing a really nice job of working together and trying to do events that will reach different kinds of people,” Radostits said.
“Right now, we are in a stage where we are forwarding information to people that it’s coming – it’s on its way,” said Dickson-Harriett, also a sophomore.
That is the key – letting people know that the census is coming and how to complete it.
“Right now, we are in the awareness stage,” Key said. “We’re just going to be telling them correct information, because there’s a lot of incorrect information that goes go out regarding the census.”
That false information includes the belief that the government will get your name from the census. Key said people are identified by a number. The citizenship question, requested by the Trump Administration, has also caused concern for some.
“A lot of people worried about the citizenship question, but that was completely ruled out,” key said.
This year the census will be available electronically for the first time – from March 12-20 – and anything new can cause confusion and concern.
“Since it’s a new option, people may not know,” Key said of the electronic version of the census.
So, the students are helping not only raise awareness of the census, but train people on how to complete it.
They have been doing some events to raise awareness, and have also talked with student groups to get the word out.
“They are trying to reach some of those hard to count population,” Radostits said. “Part of the hope is that perhaps if they can reach the elementary school students or some of the high school students and encourage those kids to fill out that paperwork, then that could perhaps help with some of that hard to reach population.”
Oregon Mayor Ken Williams has also asked the group to be involved with an event planned for The Nash Recreation Center in Oregon. Williams has secured tablets so people can come in and, with the help of the students, fill out their census form there.
There will also be a paper census form made available after the online form period has ended.