At Eagle’s Red Canyon High School, separating perception from reality
March 3, 2019
EAGLE — Red Canyon High School students believe there is a big gap between what the public thinks about their school and the reality that unfolds every day at the facility.
They also believe they can be the ones to bridge the chasm. To that aim, they have inked an official school public relations plan to guide their efforts. The PR plan was the product of a class taught by RCHS English teacher Ann Constien and local marketing professional Melinda Gladitsch.
"Ann had told me that for a long time she had a passion for tackling the PR story on behalf of Red Canyon," Gladitsch said. "She decided she wanted to handle it as a class and let the kids participate in putting together the school’s PR plan."
At RCHS, Monday through Thursday classes are devoted to core subjects and Fridays feature elective classes. The PR class fell into the latter category.
Putting words into action
“In class, we tackled the current reality of what people think of the school, where we want our image to be, and the bridges it takes to get to that image,” student Joe Cordova said. “In the Red Canyon public relations class, I learned what it takes to market an establishment and learned the steps it takes to actually do it.”
One of the class projects involved mapping out the perception-vs.-reality issue. Gladitsch said to launch the activity, the kids shared their thoughts without doing any research in the community. They then revised the map based on what they heard from community members — particularly from business owners and employers.
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The final map includes both positive and negative statements. On one hand, the students believe the general public thinks the school issues substandard diplomas and that drugs and smoking are big concerns. But when they reached out to business owners and employers, the students discovered RCHS kids have a reputation for being dependable and ready for work.
As they discussed their school’s story, the kids wanted to communicate how RCHS has the same accreditation as other high schools in the valley and that it provides a creative environment with interesting and relevant classes. The PR course option, for example.
After mapping out the perception-vs.-reality, the PR students cited specific bridges that can connect the two. Hosting open houses, launching a student podcast and developing an information roadshow were some of the ideas from students.
“In class, we were assigned to do specific tasks and mine was to create follow-me videos on current students and alumni,” Cordova said. “What this project consisted of was following the alumni in their daily life and asking them questions of what effects Red Canyon High School had on them and how it changed their lives.”
Another student — Harley Ralston — is a budding graphic artist. Her assignment was to create a visual map of the school’s perception vs. reality in the valley.
“I would hope that this class will be picked back up and the action items can be followed through,” Gladitsch said. “These kids wrote the plan. Now that the plan is in place, a new group of students can pick it up and implement the action items.”
Telling their story
Gladitsch said the PR class students were enthused by the opportunity to tell their own story. While there are some last chance stories at RCHS — kids who have had issues at other schools and ultimately landed at Red Canyon — she noted those kids don’t represent the school’s entire population.
"What I heard from a lot of the students, and I have also heard this from the teachers, is while Red Canyon is called an alternative high school, it isn’t about kids who have been in trouble,” Gladitsch said.
Gladitsch noted the PR plan is the first step in redefining how the community views RCHS students. "They are kids who may not care about the traditional high school activities,” she said. “They have a different level of maturity. They have moved on from the high school scene and are ready to move on with their lives.”
“What is Red Canyon? It's a school, of course, but not just any regular school. It's just different,” Cordova said. “It works around student schedules, it sees what students need and helps them make a plan to be on track for graduation.”
For some RCHS kids, keeping on schedule to graduate can be thwarted by adult-world responsibilities, Cordova said.
“Many RCHS students know the struggle of what it’s like to be in the real world,” Cordova said. “We are the most hard-working people in the community.”
Cordova believes RCHS has a great program to offer and a great story to share.
“The classes are the most diverse classes I’ve ever seen in my four years of high school,” he said. “The teachers are the most caring and understanding. If a student is falling behind the teachers will help him or her in any way they can.”
Finally, Cordova said he wants the larger community to know how RCHS students and staff watch out for one another.
“One important aspect of the school community is the respect we have for each other and it's also one of the RCHS norms,” he said.
He then literally spelled out those norms:
R — Respect
C — Community
H — Hope
S — Self-discipline.
“We live by them when we are at school and out in the community,” Cordova said.