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NPR's Student Podcast Challenge Returns


Back in the spring, we had a group of eighth-graders from the Bronx on the show. They were the grand prize winners of the first ever NPR student podcast challenge.


JASMIN ACOSTA: Sixty-seven percent of female students polled at Bronx Prep Middle School said that they feel uncomfortable discussing their periods at school because it's not anybody's business.

LITZY ENCARNACION: We're still in middle school at this point, but the problem gets even larger when we take it out into the community when it...

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: That contest and those students were a huge success. And so this morning we're announcing the news that we are doing it again. Education reporter Elissa Nadworny is with me to talk about year two of the contest.

KING: Hi, Elissa.

NADWORNY: Hey, Noel.

KING: So the students who won the contest the first time around had this great podcast about what it was like to be, you know, an early teenager and to be getting your period in school and not have any supplies, yeah?

NADWORNY: Totally, and to not be a big deal to have your period.

KING: And so you've been following up with those girls. What did they tell you?

NADWORNY: So the seven girls behind this podcast, they graduated from eighth grade so they're now all in high school, but many of them are still coming together every Wednesday to make new episodes. So they talk about body image, healthy relationships, birth control. These are girls that never listened to a podcast before the contest, and now they are sponsored by Always, the pad company. There's a storage room at their middle school that's filled with donated pads and tampons. And just last week, their teacher Shehtaz Huq, she was on Capitol Hill talking about menstrual equality to Congress.

SHEHTAZ HUQ: Am I actually sitting in Congress? Like, this is really happening. And it was really fascinating. We went from this, like, little five-minute-long podcast to, like, me being in Congress talking about, like, give girls pads.

KING: Those girls made an incredible podcast. But I know that you had a lot of really, really good entries that didn't necessarily win the grand prize.


KING: Tell us about some of those.

NADWORNY: We had podcasts about everything. I mean, all over the country - serious, funny, challenges facing young people, so vaping, gaming, social media, friendship, everything.

KING: So what are the details this time around? What should people know?

NADWORNY: OK. So like last year, teachers and educators can enter their student work in two categories. That's grades five through eight and then grades nine through 12. Entries will open up in January, and we're going to have all information about deadlines, rules that'll be up on the website, so you can Google student podcast challenge and get to that URL. And this is the cool part. The grand prize winners get to come on this show at the end of the school year.

KING: That is absolutely fantastic. I can't wait to meet them. So let's give these young people a little bit of advice about what we're looking for. What makes a great podcast, do you think?

NADWORNY: So I think having a great topic that you love, that you want to talk about is super important. Here's how the ladies from the Bronx picked their topic.

ASHLEY AMANKWAH: At first, we thought we were going to do immigration or talk about the LGBTQ.

CAROLINE ABREU: A few of us were on our periods at the time...

ASHLEY: Yeah, we were.


CAROLINE: And so we were talking about, like - you were like, oh, my God. This happened today.

KASSY ABAD: We were all just ranting. And then we were like, why don't we just talk about that?

NADWORNY: So I asked one of those girls that made the podcast, Raizel Febles, what she would say to students doing it this year.

RAIZEL FEBLES: Try to speak about something that you're also passionate about, and try to connect what you're talking about, like, to your personal life, too. It just gives it, like, a more deeper meaning.

NADWORNY: So just find something you're into, and have fun.

KING: Very cool. Thanks, Elissa.

NADWORNY: Thanks, Noel.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEIGE'S "THURSDAY JAM") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elissa Nadworny reports on all things college for NPR, following big stories like unprecedented enrollment declines, college affordability, the student debt crisis and workforce training. During the 2020-2021 academic year, she traveled to dozens of campuses to document what it was like to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic. Her work has won several awards including a 2020 Gracie Award for a story about student parents in college, a 2018 James Beard Award for a story about the Chinese-American population in the Mississippi Delta and a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in innovation.
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