A few days before the first field trip, 100 blue shirts with white swooshes were delivered to our classroom doors. At Nike's request, all the children remembered to wear their new shirts. When the big day arrived, the excitement in the buses must have been audible for miles. "Wouldn't it be great if we could get them this excited on the first day of school?" one colleagueyelled through the din. "Imagine if we could give all the kids t-shirts with our school name and mascot!"
Driving slowly through the guarded gates, we looked onto impeccably landscaped gardens full of colorful flowers and bubbling fountains. Nike employees from the Global Apparel Department were waiting for us, all smiles and cheers. Dressed from head to toe in Nike sports attire, they seemedgenuinely enthusiastic about meeting the fourth graders. The kids were divided into small groups and quickly led away to what seemed like all corners of the immense campus.
Despite glossy literature and detailed schedules, it turned out that no one in charge actually had experience working with large groups of school children. At one point, Nike group leaders escorted the students directly from a nutrition class into a huge auditorium. Nike employees handed each child a can of soda and students spent the next hour watching not-yet-released Nike commercials. They sent the teachers and most of the volunteer employees to the cafeteria for lunch, leaving 100 students in the auditorium with only a few Nike representatives. When we asked the program directors why the students were watching commercials, they told us it would help "rev them up" for their upcoming soccer game. Looking back, I wonder how we could have sat, albeit uneasily, through that catered lunch while they showed our students ads. I remember feeling powerless to say or change anything in that unfamiliar and imposing setting.
To their credit, Nike employees responded to our feedback (and my outrage) that neither soda nor commercials were appropriate for a health and fitness program. On our next field trip, students were served juice and trail mix for a snack, and there was no screen watching. This didn't do much for my first impression of the program, though, nor quell my conviction that this was indeed a marketing and PR ploy.
Each subsequent visit to Nike was full of fun and exciting activities like swimming, hip-hop dancing, rock climbing, yoga, and tennis. Many of my students were able to try things they might not have had a chance to do otherwise, and there wasn't a single child who didn't enjoy some aspect of our year with Nike. I was pleased the children were able to try these sports and get almost individual attention from the enthusiastic Nike employees. At the same time, I watched as our students were indoctrinated into a corporate culture, experiencing the lovely Nike Campus without being asked to consider where Nike products are made, who makes them, and under what conditions.