Beauty versus brains? Students' award-winning podcast seeks to answer that question

·5 min read

Jul. 26—For their skit that illustrated the beauty versus brains debate, Lyla Beckler and Harper Booth received the best Creative Use of Script award at this year's county-wide Speak Up Whitfield podcast competition.

When Heidi Long, who teaches gifted-and-talented students at Tunnel Hill Elementary, introduced podcasting during the 2021-22 school year, Beckler was "excited, but a little overwhelmed," she said. "It's a lot to take in."

Booth "didn't really know that much about podcasts, but was excited to try it," she said. After her experience, "I definitely recommend it to everybody, (because) it's easy and fun."

"You meet new people, too," as Booth and Beckler — who completed fifth grade at the end of the 2021-22 school year — interviewed several students in their school for their podcast, "Beauty vs. Brains," Booth said. "I definitely realized people have different opinions."

Beckler has been "my best friend since I came to this school," so they were a natural pairing, and "we both liked the idea," Booth said. As they perused a book of brainstorming questions, they alighted upon comparing the value of beauty versus brains.

They utilized a skit featuring a "smart, nerdy" woman with several degrees applying for a NASA job against a "beauty queen Valley Girl" who was a cheer captain and voted "most beautiful" in her class, Booth said. They concluded their podcast noting that neither beauty nor brains is more important, but, rather, "you're special in your own way."

They also surveyed their classmates in grades four and five, and answers were illuminating, Beckler said. When asked whether they'd rather possess brains or beauty, respondents chose brains in a landslide, but when queried whether they'd prefer their hypothetical boyfriend or girlfriend to be blessed with more beauty or more brains, the latter still won out, but by a much narrower margin.

Long believed her gifted-and-talented students in grades four and five would be a good fit for podcasting.

"I thought 'Boy, have I got the kids for that,' and I knew it would click," she said. "They have so much to say and no qualms at all about giving their opinion."

And "they picked it up fast," Long said.

With podcasting "you can share your feelings," but without sharing one's face, which removes anxiety, Beckler said. "For a video on YouTube, you have to put your face out there," but that's not the case with podcasting.

Booth's brother is "very shy" and wouldn't consent to a video interview, for example, but he was interviewed for the podcast, Booth said. "He did a really good job."

"As a parent, I'd much rather let my child do a podcast than a video, just for the privacy part alone, (as) it's less dangerous, and I wouldn't want to do a video, but I can record" a podcast, Long said. "It's easier for students to express themselves" through a podcast, and "as a teacher, I can say it is worth the time."

Long did her own podcast, "Fun with First-Graders," which received third place in the teacher category at Speak Up Whitfield. She asked her first-graders "What is Fun?"

"If anyone on the globe knows what fun is, it's first-graders," she said with a laugh. "They enjoyed the experience, they were really excited to hear themselves, and they want to record and podcast."

New Hope Middle School teacher Sonya Thompson received first place in the teacher podcast category for "Who Are You Wearing?" while Dalton Junior High School teachers Jessica Bramlett, Ashley Kinser, Keri Kirby and Kate Orr were runners-up with "Do I Really Need Math?"

Students "are always looking for more engaging ways to learn, and we're always looking for more engaging ways to present" content, Orr explained earlier this year. Podcasts are an ideal means for curriculum instruction and engagement, and "I'll never ask my kids to do something I won't do myself."

Doing her own podcast illustrated for Orr "how many skills you have to have," she added. "It's not just reading and editing, but writing and listening. Does it flow? Does it keep people engaged?"

Other honorees at Speak Up Whitfield were North Whitfield Middle School's Ashley Arrendondo, Kara Boatwright, Charley Johnson and Emma Sucher for "Books That Built Us," Best Informational Podcast; Southeast Whitfield High School's Tiana Griffin, "Home Life vs. School," and Brookwood Elementary School's Julian Mora, "Power of Poverty," Best Current Topic; Dalton Junior High School's Kate Jones, "Broken Boxes," The Advocate; and Eastbrook Middle School's Jimena Sanchez, "A Teacher's Last Breaking Point," Best Use of Interviews.

Jennifier Akers, a drama teacher at Westside Middle School, has prior podcast experience, a good thing, because Beckler and Booth — among others — want to continue podcasting, Long said. Long will also expand her podcasting program.

Beckler and Booth are already working on a podcast on Bigfoot, and they interviewed several people during a field trip to a Bigfoot museum this spring, Booth said. Podcasting "is really fun, and my dad" — Kevin Booth is a physical education teacher at Tunnel Hill Elementary School — "wants to get into it, so we're going to (construct) a studio in our basement."

She advises others getting into podcasting to "not overthink it. Really explain your feelings."

"Don't sound fake," Beckler added. "Make it be you."