Anyone tempted to ignore the 2010 Census will have a tough time doing it — especially if they have kids in school.
The government has launched Census in Schools, an all-out campaign targeting superintendents, principals, teachers, students and, indirectly, parents, as schools open across the nation this month and next. The message: The Census is coming and here's why everyone should care.
The goal is to send posters, teaching guides, maps and lesson plans to every school in the nation, Puerto Rico and U.S. island territories to encourage everyone to participate in the national count. The materials will land in more than 118,000 schools and reach 56 million students.
"It's great to reach the children because children are such strong voices in their homes," says Renee Jefferson-Copeland, chief of the Census schools program. "In households that are linguistically isolated, they can express the information to their parents."
The school effort is more ambitious than in 2000, the last time the government set out to count everyone. At that time, teachers had to request the material and it was available only in print. Now, the kits and lessons will arrive in every school and lesson plans can be downloaded online, where they will be available in 28 languages.
The Constitution mandates a complete population count every 10 years. The tally — down to the city block — helps redraw political boundaries and determine states' representation in Congress and the distribution of more than $400 billion in federal funds to state and local governments every year.
"It's extremely important for us," says Michael McGrady, associate director for partnership development at the National Head Start Association, which promotes school readiness for low-income children and their families. "Historically, Head Start families have been undercounted and that has a negative effect on their communities."
Between January and March, the Census Bureau will help plan a week of Census education in schools. During Census Week, teachers will devote 15 minutes every day for five days to the topic by discussing such things as civic participation, confidentiality or geography. Beginning in mid-March, more than 120 million Census questionnaires will be delivered to residential addresses.
The Census Bureau is partnering with Seseame Street to extend the 2010 Census message to preschoolers and adult caregivers. Under consideration: Using Sesame Street characters on Census materials and having characters participate in school events and public service announcements.