Southeast Middle School students develop kid-focused online marketing campaign for Baton Rouge

Adults have long had websites aplenty to find out more information about Louisiana’s Capital city. Now kids have one of their own. It’s called

The site was created by the sixth to eighth grade students at Baton Rouge’s Southeast Middle School. The homepage declares that its student creators have a mission: “To convince the rest of the world that Baton Rouge is a great place to live, with a rich and unique culture. Explore their site and see Baton Rouge from a new perspective.”

Click on the page labeled “Fun,” and it’s evident that kids are behind this effort. A bowling alley, laser tag arena, an arcade, a haunted house and a water park all get short writeups.

In writing about the arcade known as Quarters, writer Zakiya — no last names are used — lets readers know that it has more than 50 video games, including Crossy Roads, Piano Keys and MotoGP Arcade Motorcycle Simulator.”

Quarters also offers its own laser tag area, which is filled with LED lights, easy to maneuver around and is “a great place to get your energy flowing, » Zakiya said.

The public school, which is located at 15000 S. Harrells Ferry Road, unveiled the new marketing effort Wednesday night at a special “project night” held at the school. About 150 students showed off the work they did to fill out the website.

Most of the displays resembled a social studies fair. The library and hallway were filled with posters showing the research the students did as they tried to figure out how to market Baton Rouge.

Nina Donald and Haven Stewart, both 13, showed off their research into Louisiana’s French heritage, with headings such as “Crawfish,” “Bayous,” and “Alligators.”

“Mostly I learned about the food,” admitted Nina.

Their poster featured a recipe for crawfish étouffée, a dish which was a discovery for Nina, who recently moved to Louisiana from Miami, but not for Haven whose family harks from Opelousas.

“What I like about Baton Rouge is it’s like a city, but it’s still the country,” Nina said.

Ashley Lee and Briah Scott, seventh-graders at Southeast Middle Magnet School, squealed and …

Students in Southeast Middle’s magnet program, known as DATA, short for Digital Arts Technology Academy, led the way in filling out the website and preparing the exhibits on display Wednesday. It was the first of four schoolwide projects they do each year.

John Hayman, coordinator of the magnet program, said he wanted the website to look like it had been professionally done as opposed to a project for middle school students.

Hayman said the marketing campaign grew out of discussions he had with fellow teachers where they talked about the flooding and other news events that have left Baton Rouge residents with little pride in their city. They wondered whether students could help change that. Hayman said the lack of pride in Baton Rouge is far different than residents who live in other places have for their hometowns or states. He cited as an example the level of pride residents of Texas have. 

“I’m from Texas and we pledge allegiance every day to the flag of Texas,” he said.

Teachers, though, avoided talking much the issue with students.

“We don’t want this to be negative and be a self-defeating thing,” Hayman said.

The nine-week project began with a trip to downtown Baton Rouge, organized like a scavenger hunt.

“Every time they reached a destination, the teacher would read a riddle and they would have to predict where the next place was,” Hayman said.

Along the way, the middle schoolers took pictures and gathered material, much of which later ended up on the website. The majority of the students had either never been downtown, or had, but the visit barely registered with them, Hayman said.

That recent day downtown clearly stuck with the students.

Destiny Sonnier, Gabrielle Edwards and India Magee on Wednesday showed off what they’d learned about when they visited the old and the new state Capitols.

“(Huey Long) did not like the look of the old state Capitol,” Gabrielle said. “It was too Gothic for him.”

“He didn’t like it because of his impeachment,” India said, noting the 1929 attempt to remove then-Gov. Long from office occurred in that building.

Southeast Middle was filled Wednesday with parents and family members of the students, touring exhibits.

Patricia and Howard Scott came because their granddaughter, Aja, attends the school. Recently relocated to Baton Rouge from Ohio – “We’re loving it,” said Howard Scott. They are still learning about their new home.

“I didn’t know what that is, the snowball?” said Patricia Scott, pointing at a picture of the shaved ice and syrupy concoction.

Wednesday night’s event featured more than just posters. There were specially made T-shirts, which quickly sold out. Miracle Sanderson, 13, walked around with a picture frame that she had passers-by step into and get their pictures taken. A Cajun band played in the gym.

Nathan Powell, who teaches music engineering at the Middle School, manned a bank of headphones where visitors could listen to student-made jingles promoting Baton Rouge.

“I urged them to come up with words that would grab people’s attention,” Powell said.

Hayman said he’s still the jingles, as well as videos and other student writings to the website. Students also have been added local restaurant reviews. Hayman said representatives from Visit BR, the city’s official travel website, have urged him to continue, as well as have students contribute to their website.

“What I’d like to do is have the kids keep it up through the year and go onto other projects,” he said.

website, urged him to continue with the project as well as have students contribute to their website.

“What I would like to do is have the kids keep it up through the year and go onto to other projects,” he said.

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