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From gun violence to great composers: Meet our Student Podcast Challenge finalists

LA Johnson/NPR

What makes Michigan the best state ever? How is dating in high school these days different from an earlier generation? Why is everyone in New York City unbothered by the sound of sirens?

These are just a handful of the many questions raised – and answered – by thousands of middle and high school students around the country who entered NPR's fifth annual Student Podcast Challenge.

This year, we received more than 3,300 entries, from 48 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. It's a big jump over last year, and the most entries we've gotten since we began the contest began back in 2019!

The NPR Ed team has spent weeks listening to, agonizing over, and judging their work. And at long last, we're excited to share our 13 middle school and 13 high school finalists. From these outstanding podcasts, our judges will choose one middle school and one high school Grand Prize winner.

It's the fifth anniversary of the Student Podcast Challenge: Maybe you, dear teacher, have stayed with us since the early days of the pandemic. Or, you recently began listening to – and teaching about – podcasting, and discovered our contest. Either way, we've enjoyed hearing from your students, and the stories they've brought us. So thank you all for sticking with us. We hope to hear from you again next year!

Below are our 13 middle school and 13 high school finalist podcasts, listed in alphabetical order. Congratulations!

Content warning: Some podcasts on this list deal with sensitive topics, including trauma and school shootings.

Middle School

All About Tourette's Syndrome – Victor Intermediate School, Victor, N.Y.
Student: Tyler Picard, Eva Cherpel, Zach Pallifrone and Andrew Noeson
Teacher/Sponsor: Amy Smith-Faczan

Four classmates share the story of their friend who has Tourette Syndrome. Their podcast informs listeners how the condition can affect student life – and how to be a good friend to someone who has it.

Amelia's Storytelling – Hawkins STEMM Academy, Toledo, Ohio
Student: Amelia Hankinson
Teacher/Sponsor: Rodney West-Estell

In this delightful first-person podcast, Amelia imagines what it's like to be the shortest person in her class. In her fictional story, she tries just about everything in an effort to change that, from eating garlic to stretching and reaching for her toes.

An Assault On Our Future – Compass Community Collaborative School, Fort Collins, Colo.
Students: Cole Anderson, Iris Beachy-Quick and Julia Walkowiak
Teacher/Sponsor: Allison Horsch

To better understand the lasting impact of school shootings, three students interview a member of their community in Colorado who survived the Columbine massacre in 1999.

Conscientious Consumerism – DeWitt Middle School, Ithaca, N.Y.
Student: Corallus Meeks
Teacher/Sponsor: Rosina Belcourt

Born and raised on a small family farm, Corallus knows a thing or two about processed meats. Her podcast explores the ethics of where our food comes from, and about the food choices we make: "By our simple changes in food choices, we can make a huge impact in our agriculture system and make it one more step towards a more ethical world."

DalyanAgcaNPRPodcast – Maret School, Washington, D.C.
Student: Dalyan Agca
Teacher/Sponsor: Senay Agca

This podcast asks, "Do you love classical music ... and your pets? If so, keep listening!" Dalyan walks us through how some famous classical pieces were influenced by the composers' cats and dogs. "And, you never know," Dalyan tells us, "maybe your pet will be the inspiration of your next piece."

Hawaii Innocence Project – Highlands Intermediate School, Pearl City, Hawaii
Students: Brynna Colmenares and Emma Forges
Teacher/Sponsor: Kelli Kajiwara

Two middle schoolers from Hawaii introduce the origin story of the Hawaii Innocence Project, and look at the legal non-profit's efforts to free wrongly convicted inmates in their state.

J&D Podcast– Millburn Middle School, Millburn, N.J.
Students: Jhanvi Wong and Devin Wong
Teacher/Sponsor: Emily Surman

How do we really measure the impact that phones and social media have on the lives of young people? These siblings put this long-running question to the test, when Jhanvi gives up her phone for a week, while Devin observes. The first day starts off with a struggle: "I'm trying so hard not to think about my phone. I sometimes reach for it, thinking it's to the side of me. I really want my phone back." After that, the brother and sister duo learn some surprising lessons.

NWEY Middle Schools Now – Presidio Middle School, San Francisco
Students: Norah Weiner and Erika Young
Teacher/Sponsor: Jenny Chio

Middle school isn't quite what it used to be. The constant threat of gun violence; widespread concerns about mental health; Instagram and TikTok. As this podcast notes, teachers in an earlier time didn't store cat litter in their classrooms, in case a lockdown forces them to create a DIY bathroom. And then, there are the pressures to conform that social media brings. For better and for worse, Norah and Erika conclude, middle school has changed in profound ways.

Self Care Fanfare– Charles N Holden Elementary School, Chicago
Students: Leslie Herrera-Godinez and Etta Nevius
Teacher/Sponsor: Mark Stickler

Leslie and Etta go on a journey of self-care discovery: They spend five days trying different strategies that will help reduce stress: including reading books, baking, listening to music, and sleeping. Through their experiment, the two middle-schoolers learn that taking care of yourself can look different for everyone.

Tales of Embarrassment– Charles N. Holden Elementary School, Chicago
Student: Maisey Marshall
Teacher/Sponsor: Mark Stickler

Everyone has those cringe-worthy moments – for Maisey, it's the memory of having to get up in front of the whole class and apologize for a tantrum. Along the way, this student gets some classmates, and teachers, to reflect on their embarrassing stories, as a way of exploring what we can all learn from such moments.

Undocumented– Seward Communications Arts Academy, Chicago
Students: Anian Andrade, Carlos Morales and Gabriel Mendez
Teacher/Sponsor: Greg Michie

Three eighth graders from Chicago set out to tell the stories of undocumented youths from their community. Part of a three-part series, this episode features an intimate conversation with Luna, a high school student who immigrated from Mexico at a very young age.

We The Students – Luria Academy of Brooklyn, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Student: Mia Tweel
Teacher/Sponsor: Chiara Cafiero

How can you love democracy after losing an election? Mia, a middle-schooler in Brooklyn, asks this question – through a brand-new student government.

Women Life Freedom – The Northwest School, Seattle
Student: Nina Goldin
Teacher/Sponsor: Susan Fine

Fourteen-year-old Nina tells the history of the first women-led revolution in Iran, and asks listeners to give it their attention and support.

High School

Bulletproof– After School Matters, Chicago
Student: Natalie Martinez
Teacher/Sponsor: Jesus Magallon

Natalie tells the terrifying story of being at a Chicago mall during a mass shooting in 2022. "When I heard six gunshots and ran to the back of the store, suddenly I felt terrified, aghast, and petrified. While I was sitting and crying, I called my friends and family, telling them I'll miss and love them to the moon and back, because I thought I was going to die." The high schooler discusses how she survived this deadly incident, and interviews a Chicago police officer for advice on what to do in these situations.

Cracking the Nutcracker: Balancing Tradition with Progress – University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, Chicago
Students: Kriti Sarav and Sarina Zhao
Teacher/Sponsor: Menaka Sarav

A beloved holiday ballet, The Nutcracker showcases a range of culturally-inspired dances. Two high schoolers in Chicago challenge some of the outdated aspects of the show and look at how a dance company in their city is modernizing the classical ballet.

Facing Fentanyl: An Exploration of the Opioid Crisis in our County – Montgomery Blair High School, Silver Spring, Md.
Students: Caroline Bathon, Maxwell Erlebacher and Lili Miller
Teacher/Sponsor: Sarah Forman

A school district in Maryland is facing a life-threatening crisis – from fentanyl. Three students report on their own experiences, and those of their classmates: the fear, trauma, and loss. They also interview school officials to report on the policies being implemented to deal with the surge in overdoses.

Grief and the Power of Art– Cypress Woods High School, Cypress, Texas
Student: Cameron Wallace
Teacher/Sponsor: Lori Andrade

Cameron discusses the interconnected nature of art and grief, how art-making can help us work through negative feelings and even bring people together.

How The Jackson Water Crisis Affects EducationMississippi School for Mathematics and Science, Columbus, Miss.
Student: Georgianna McKenny
Teacher/Sponsor: Thomas Easterling

Media coverage of the water-quality crisis earlier this year in Jackson, Miss., has focused on the blame game. Whose fault was it? As usual, while the "adults" argued, the students of Jackson struggled to cope. Georgianna tells the story, in part, through the experience of her cousin, Mariah, who recently attended Jackson Public Schools: "Mariah starts her day by going to the bathroom, to check if her water pressure is working before getting ready for school," Georgianna tells us. "No water comes from the faucet."

Jiah Hwang's Podcast – Stanford Online High School, Redwood City, Calif.
Student: Jiah Hwang
Teacher/Sponsor: Estefany Arenas

In this emotional podcast, Jiah opens up about her relationship with her older sister, and how seeing her confront – and overcome – a tough personal experience has led the two siblings to a deeper relationship.

OCD 101 – Emma Willard School, Troy, N.Y.
Students: Patty Kongsomjit and Narmene Omer
Teacher/Sponsor: Laszlo Bardos

Two students with obsessive-compulsive disorder interview a psychiatric nurse practitioner to explain its complexities, and to explore why it's important to raise awareness on how OCD affects everyday life.

Soccer in the US: My Obsession with America's New Favorite Pastime– Branson School, Branson, Colo.
Student: Ayah Al-Masyabi
Teacher/Sponsor: Anne Hellman

Ayah explains the history of American soccer, interviews soccer players and fans, and shares how she fell in love with the game: "Soccer has been my life – through many miserable 90 minutes, and overwhelming moments of joy, but more importantly, memories with those I love."

Reclaiming History: The Resilience and Rebirth of Oberlin Village – Enloe Magnet High School, Raleigh, N.C.
Student: Leeya Chaudhuri and Jacob Harrenstein
Teacher/Sponsor: Brian Hedgepeth

This episode of The Down 'Loe podcast traces the important but little-known history of Oberlin Village, a historic Reconstruction-era freedmen's colony in North Carolina.

The Happiness Wish – West Adams Preparatory High School, Los Angeles
Student: Sara Roshan
Teacher/Sponsor: John Foley

"Hi, my name is Sara." Thus begins this powerful first-person narrative of an Afghan refugee, her journey to the United States, and the importance she and her family place on education. "Obviously I can't make big changes," she says, "but I can study harder for myself, for my friends, and for all the people in my country."

transAction– Clayton High School, Clayton, Mo.
Student: Stella Plein
Teacher/Sponsor: Amy Doyle

This collage-style podcast features voices from five transgender teens who share their stories of growing up in St. Louis, where gender-affirming care was banned by the state.

Trans Kids in America – Marblehead High School, Marblehead, Mass.
Student: Dylan McDonald
Teacher/Sponsor: Jennifer Billings

In this heartfelt conversation with his mom, one Massachusetts teenager opens up about his experience being a transgender youth. "Kids like me are why we need to fight these anti-trans bills," Dylan says.

Undocumentary – Palos Verdes High School, Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
Student: Sia Presser
Teacher/Sponsor: Kristin Lyons

How far would you go to protect your family? Lost in the immigration debate on Latin Americans are the stories of people facing life-or-death situations, making risky decisions that will affect their lives and those of the next generation. In this podcast, Sia tries to make this political tale a personal one.


The winners in our Honorable Mention category will be announced later this summer.

All finalist certificates will be mailed to schools in the fall. Please reach out to studentpodcastchallenge@npr.org with any questions.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Janet W. Lee
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Lauren Migaki is a senior producer with NPR's education desk. She helps tell stories about teacher strikes, college access and a new high school for young men in Washington D.C. She also produces and hosts NPR's podcast about the Student Podcast Challenge.
Steve Drummond heads up two teams of journalists at NPR. NPR Ed is a nine-member team that launched in March 2014, providing deeper coverage of learning and education and extending it to audiences across digital platforms. Code Switch is an eight-person team that covers race and identity across the network, and in an award-winning weekly podcast.
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