Authors: Salvador Gurrola Jr., Advertising Campaign Leader & SJSU Advertising Student; Nicole Guzman, CommUniverCity Project Coordinator; Katherine Cushing, CommUniverCity Executive Director; Marisela Castro, CommUniverCity Communications Specialist
This spring semester, Professor John Delacruz from the Department of Journalism & Mass Communications at San Jose State University is teaching ADV 129, SJSU’s Advertising Campaign Planning and Management, the capstone course for the major. His students are actively working on an advertising campaign for Burnett Middle School to promote the school’s assets and their International Baccalaureate curriculum (IB) in an effort to increase the number of eligible students who enroll at the school. CommUniverCity’s role is to connect SJSU students with the staff and parents from Burnett, in addition to local elementary schools such as Horace Mann and Grant Elementary School. Using information from students, staff, and residents, teams of SJSU students will design several possible advertising and public relation campaigns for the school’s use. To date, ADV 129 students have conducted multiple focus groups and administered surveys,receiving valuable feedback from parents on how they choose what middle schools their children will attend and the different factors they consider. This project exemplifies the best of community engaged learning because of the clear benefits that Burnett and SJSU students will get out of the experience. SJSU students receive an ideal platform for applying their copywriting and graphic design skills to produce a tangible and valuable resourceful tool for a local school. Below Salvador Gurrola, ADV129 group leader and an SJSU Advertising student, provides his perspective on the focus groups his class conducted this spring.
Through our partnership with CommUniverCity, this project provides me and my team the opportunity to work with a real-life client hands-on and utilize concepts taught in our courses. Being the account manager for our group gives me the opportunity to apply the skills I have accumulated over the last five years while also learning new skills daily. My main focus is to lead conversations that will encourage individuals to share their personal experiences, and I’m hoping that we can connect this feedback to larger recurring themes that resonate with a larger audience.
After receiving permission from Burnett Middle School, CommUniverCity helped with setting up meeting dates and times for the parents. Once the parents and staff members were ready for the discussion, the cameras begin to roll. Our focus group lasted 45 minutes and included about a dozen participants representing both students and their parents. We started off with a small icebreaker and went around the room introducing ourselves. Then SJSU students asked community members a series of open-ended questions about their personal experiences and made sure that all participants were actively sharing. There were no wrong answers. Since focus groups need to be led by a neutral moderator, I served as moderator and facilitated additional discussion to provide insight on topics that were not explored yet.
During the first focus groups we conducted, parents that we interviewed at Burnett Middle School were very open about their experience. They felt very comfortable speaking with the students from San Jose State; everyone was very insightful and willing to share their personal stories. A significant amount of the feedback we received focused on praising the school and staff for creating a nurturing environment for their children to thrive. They also shared thoughts regarding safety and their comments conveyed the feeling that the school was quite safe and provided an appropriately challenging environment to encourage growth and maturity.
Some of the main topics mentioned in the focus group included safety relative to location of the school, violence, middle school drama, transportation, and most importantly, the process of selecting an appropriate school for their children. There were some parents from out-of-state who shared their experience researching to find the “perfect house” within a 5-mile radius of their preferred elementary, middle, and high school. Other parents, who have resided in the school district for a long period of time, mentioned how they decided on their “home school” after receiving information in the mail. Parents similarly shared their concerns about how Burnett Middle School has a fair amount of information online but how it is not always shared through the best platforms to reach their target audience.
I was most surprised by the amount of positive feedback we received from parents in the community regarding our client, Burnett Middle School. Story after story mentioned children becoming more engaged in classes, getting out of their comfort zone to try out a new club or sport. Feedback even included success stories of alumni furthering their studies and eventually graduating from a four-year university.
Parents seemed very engaged and eager to share their stories. The parents of current Burnett Middle School students enjoyed the idea of their children learning and practicing accountability and individual responsibility. Burnett’s IB curriculum focuses on criteria grade ranges that outline goals that are easy to understand by students. This grading criteria serves as a mutual contract with the student so they understand what they have to do to in order to receive the grade they want. They have a 1-8 point scale instead of the traditional letter scale and regular report cards rewards. For example, the school has“Free Dress” every Friday, which serves as an incentive for students to maintain good grades. This allows parents to let go of some of their own oversight responsibilities because they feel they can trust the curriculum and mission of Burnett to be aligned with their own priorities for high academic achievement at school and at home.. In fact, most of the feedback we received praised the school and staff for being so nurturing to their children. They felt that the school was quite safe and that it encouraged their children to become more mature.
Running the focus groups also led to new discoveries by my team of factors affecting our community we were not aware of before. We are excited to be working with CommUniverCity because they have been extremely helpful in connecting us with both faculty and students. Additionally, the presentations that the representatives from both CommUniverCity and Burnett gave were very eye-opening because both organizations are very open to new ideas and excited to provide an opportunity like this to soon-to-be graduates.
Currently, my team is developing comprehensive marketing materials for a planned advertising campaign. After researching and conducting a couple of focus groups, we have finalized a campaign concept that focuses on inclusivity and diversity. As a photography-driven campaign, we will be creating drafts of posters, social media branding, and making additional visits to Burnett Middle School within the next month. Leading focus groups at Burnett Middle School and Horace Mann Elementary School has opened my eyes to the community that I am a part of outside the university student demographic. I am grateful for the opportunity to practice my journalism skills in gathering information from the clients and the user groups. I’m enjoying collaborating with my team to create something practical for the community to use.