Sequoia Carrillo | KGOU
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Sequoia Carrillo

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LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In Annapolis, Md., young men and women in crisp white uniforms and white masks are doing what students here have been doing for 175 years — taking their first steps to becoming officers in the U.S. Navy.

These exercises are a part of the traditional "plebe summer," an intensive crash course that prepares first-year students for the transition to military life. They learn how to salute and march as a unit, along with lots of new lingo: floors are called "decks," toilets are "heads," and the students are "midshipmen."

Peaceful, student-led protests have been a powerful force for change throughout American history.

In 1925, for example, students at Fisk University staged a 10-week protest to speak out against the school's president, who didn't want students starting a chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. In 1940, almost 2,000 students protested after New York University decided to pull a black player from its football roster to accommodate the University of Missouri's segregationists.

And campus-based protests, including against racism, were a major lever of social change in the 1960s.

First, the end:

"Please be kind to one another. That's all for today."

So closes the middle-school top-prize winner of NPR's Student Podcast Challenge. World, meet The Dragon Kids.

Among the many losses this school year was the chance for students to shine on stage in the classic end-of-the-year theater production. Yet teachers and students across the country turned misfortune into opportunity, creating memorable plays and performances that will live on — online.

For many student performers, there was that one week, back in March, where everything shifted. One moment everyone was at school, going to class and hanging out with friends ... and then suddenly they were at home, social-distancing and trying to figure out online learning.

Sixth-graders who used the power of two languages — Mandarin and English — to express how Asian students in their city suffered during the early days of the coronavirus.

And high school seniors who looked at inequality — and the activism that seeks to change it — to demand they be heard in the fight against climate change.

Meet the grand prize winners of the 2020 NPR Student Podcast Challenge!

Coronavirus, homework, sports, climate change: Working in the midst of a nationwide school shutdown, high school and middle school students around the country took on these and many more topics in this year's NPR Student Podcast Challenge.

After two deadline extensions and a lot of creative solutions to the challenges of recording from their homes, we received more than 2,000 podcasts from 46 states and the District of Columbia.

Spring semester was off to a pretty normal start at Rolling Meadows High School. The school, in a northwest suburb of Chicago, was gearing up for the goodbye rituals of every spring semester: senior prom, end-of-year exams and graduation.

Caitlyn Walsh, the school's music teacher, was looking forward to the big choir concert and the spring musical. "From the fine arts scene we have a lot of end-of-year activities that are very cherished," she says.