By Michelle Han
The U.S. Census Bureau's Census 2000 publicity drive may have an added bonus for the kids in the glee club at Rego Park's PS 139 – they could soon find themselves on TV.
Queens officially kicked off its Census 2000 campaign with an evening gala last Thursday at the Queens Museum of Art. Among the dignitaries and U.S. Census workers were the fifth- and sixth- grade glee club singers, who were the featured guests.
“I count, you count, your family counts, too. The census counts people, make sure it counts you,” sang the young troupe, who learned the census song only a few days before their performance.
The U.S. Census Bureau and the mayor's New York City Census 2000 project have a little over seven weeks to convince every resident in the borough of Queens to send in accurate census forms, which will start arriving in the mail in March.
The need for an accurate count is especially pressing in New York state, which stands to lose two congressional seats based on early data and in Queens, where schools are overflowing and representation is vital to securing education funds.
Census officials are appealing to the borough's children to bring the message home to parents and relatives.
“We have people singing about it,” said the U.S. Census Bureau's New York regional director, Lester Farthing. “What you've done is you've engaged the kids. And you know what happens – kids nag parents.”
The students cheered when Sara Vidal, coordinator for the mayor's Census 2000 project, promised the glee club and its conductor, Fern Nash, that they would appear on television in a public service announcement singing the census song.
Future events include a traveling Census 2000 van, Farthing said, that will plant itself on busy avenues like Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria. Workers will give people census forms and try to spread the word that filling out a form will not come back to haunt them.
“You have that issue of confidentiality and trying to convince people that this is a safe activity to participate in,” Farthing said. “You say 'government' and people run. Well, this is safe. It's confidential for 72 years.”
He added that many parents in Queens – the most ethnically diverse region in the nation – were not around for the last U.S. census count in 1990.
“I will bet you some of their parents don't speak English,” Farthing said. “I bet you some of these kids are going to be helping their parents fill out these forms.”
The message seems to be finding firm roots in the minds of PS 139 children.
Glee club member Lucas Starosta, 11, said the census was important “because the numbers of representatives from each state have to be based on the population of the state and city, so they do the census so they can count all the people.”
“I think it's important because if a person needs help and they aren't counted, then no one will know that they exist and they can't get financial help,” said 11-year-old Alyson Stevans, a sixth-grader who is also in the choir.