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BPR Invites Local Schools To Enter NPR Podcast Challenge

NPR's Student Podcast Challengeinvites classrooms to put together a short podcast about any topic of interest and using simple tools – like the apps on your phone. It’s a competition, but also a fun, collaborative learning experience – and a chance to hear your work on NPR and member stations. 

BPR is encouraging classrooms in WNC to participate, and we’ll be answering your questions about audio storytelling. Send us an email or voice memo to voices@bpr.org. After the contest deadline of March 15, NPR hosts like Sam Sanders and Sarah Gonzalez will judge all the entries and winners will be announced in May.   


Now in its third year, the initiative primarily has youth in mind -- but it also aims to be a resource for teachers. NPR’s Ed Team is hoping this round will serve educators looking for resources that will narrow the distance felt during pandemic learning.  


Blue Ridge Public Radio’s Cass Herrington spoke with NPR’s Steve Drummond about the value of getting students to open up in front of the microphone, and why adults should be paying attention.


Interview Transcript


Cass Herrington: For listeners who are unfamiliar with the process, could you briefly walk us through it? What does it look like? 


Steve Drummond: Well, one of the cool things about podcasting is anyone can do it. And so basically we've opened it up to two categories of young people around the country. Students in grades five through 12 through their teacher can create a podcast and send it into us and electronically that's super easy. And then this year for the first time, we're opening the contest up to college students. So that basically anybody who's a college student, and of course you can read all the details in the rules and our website, can make a podcast and send it in and we're going to judge them and pick some winners. And hopefully it'll be a lot of fun, but also we'll hear some really cool voices and young people talking about what's important to them, or what's fun to them or, you know, what really gets them excited. 


Herrington: Well, and I can say that it's so it's refreshing, but I think there's something deeper than just the different sound or the generational lens that having voices from youth come on the air. What would you say? What is the value of letting youth tell their own stories and giving them a platform to broadcast them? 


Drummond: You know this well from your work that interviewing children and they respond to grownups differently than they talk among themselves, or that they express in their own work or on social media or whatever. And so when you hear young people talking passionately and you know, it's not just some kind of canned response to a grownup, but they're actually speaking out in their own voice in their own way. And it sounds really, really different. The other thing that is really cool is we have a certain way of doing things and talking into microphones in your job or in my job and hearing young people, not knowing the rules. And so doing all kinds of fun stuff, it is absolutely delightful. And that's been the most rewarding thing for me and doing this contest.


Herrington: You led right into my next question. I've listened to a few myself and they are very wide ranging; everything from, you know, eighth grade girls talking about their periods to cafeteria food, to Pokemon which, you know, begs the question. What do you see as the common thread or what makes a good pod? 


Drummond: So, you know, the topic can be anything. And again, you just mentioned, you know, we have the one that's about tater tots. It made us all laugh. Every time I play it, it makes me laugh, it is really just the bringing of enthusiasm and energy and passion and honesty, like the same things that make great radio, make a good podcast. And it doesn't really matter what the topic is. There was a young person in Alaska that did a podcast about making an ice sculpture, and he interviewed some guy and I heard the guy fire up the chainsaw and whatever, and it was like the best radio, like the best of NPR, it was opening a window into you know, it put that podcast, put me in Alaska with some guy in a chainsaw and making a nice sculpture in a way that maybe a photograph wouldn't do or a reading about it in the newspaper wouldn't do. 


Herrington: Well for you personally, I know in addition to your career as a journalist, you've spent some time in the classroom yourself, how did your time teaching inform your covering education or, just impact you as a reporter? 


Drummond: Very much so, my limited time as a teacher, you know, I don't really say, Oh, I was a teacher. You know, there are people who train their whole lives to do this, but I got enough experience to know some of the conditions under teachers work and how they look at the world. And it informs my job every day. The student podcast challenge is a really good example. We're trying to kind of put our money where our mouth is in terms of saying, Oh, school should be engaging students with creative projects. They should be doing project-based learning. They should be getting students together in groups, the student podcast challenge, while also giving NPR some really great voices and content to put on your air. It also is kind of us saying, Hey, here's a cool lesson. And one of the things in the pandemic shutdown that we heard teachers all over the country saying, Hey, this is a great project we can do at home. I can do this. The students can create a podcast over Zoom for us. It's been kind of cool to actually apply some of what education thinking says should be going on in the classroom. And here's us, hopefully helping teachers do it. 


Herrington: So in service of youth, but also our educators, I love that. Well, to wrap things up, as you know, BPR is this year taking a more active role in the competition. We're going to be be answering questions from students and teachers as they put together their podcasts. And we'll be updating folks regularly on air and on social media. So aside from the logistics, like deadlines and format, anything else we should know?


Drummond: Just have fun with it. That's really best thing I can say and reach out for help, you know, and I know everyone needs an editor, you know, write something or play your podcast and play it for your friends or your family or your teacher, and listen to it and, and just have fun with it and experiment and try and make it better. That's really, I think the spirit that we're engaging in this whole contest.


Herrington: And certainly something we could all use a little more of these days, very much so. All right well, Steve, thank you so much for talking with me. 


Drummond: It's my pleasure. Thank you. 

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