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What I Learned From These Student Podcasters

Updated: May 1

Hey! It’s Karen Steward, co-founder of the Arkansas Podcast Collaborative. I want to tell you about something amazing I recently witnessed. 

By chance, I found out that a group of students at Gibbs Elementary in Little Rock was creating a podcast to enter into the NPR Student Podcast Challenge. I visited Mrs. Rhonda Adams’ class and the four 5th graders who were hard at work. 

The group had decided to create a podcast episode about Mifflin Gibbs, who their school is named after. They pulled up a Google doc to show me the script. 

I was surprised by the creative ways they had decided to incorporate audio into their storytelling. They’d produced original sounds to represent the various careers of Mifflin Gibbs. One of the students produced an original music composition for the episode. He used several sounds to create a theme song. He showed me his process, which included layering eight separate tracks. 

The students interviewed their teacher, the Ambassador to Madagascar, and the former principal of Gibbs Elementary to learn more about Mifflin Gibbs. They also found some archive audio from 2016 of Gibbs’ great, great grand niece. 

They sent out a survey to students and teachers to ask how much they knew about Gibbs and went out to the playground during recess to interview students in their school about their knowledge of Gibbs. 

As I observed them at work, we all noted something: While the final audio piece would probably turn out to be around 5 to 8 minutes (the content rules require the entry be no longer than 8 minutes), putting it all together had taken them weeks. 

It’s easy for an audience to sit back and listen but when you’ve observed the behind-the-scenes process you have a much greater appreciation for how much time the students’ spent putting it all together. They consistently showed up and kept going. It’s pretty inspirational to see the next generation of storytellers. 

It made me want to create a mini-documentary about these students and their process for other students to refer to in the future. But for now, NPR has come up with some amazing podcasting guides to consult, one for student creators and one for teachers. They're a terrific resource.

Want to hear what the students submitted? Take a listen below!

NPR says there were 2,900 entries this year, so the competition will be stiff. But it's not all about the contest, of course. These students learned a lot about creative storytelling and formed strong bonds along the way. To top it off, Jonathan Seaborn, the general manager of the local NPR station in Little Rock KUAR 89.1, has invited the students to come tour the station's studios. They'll learn more about how public radio works and how radio shows are made into podcasts so that listeners can hear them on-demand.

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