Changing the 'normal' at school part of student podcaster's motivation

·4 min read

Jul. 26—"Broken Boxes" was the first podcast Kate Jones had ever done, but she's fallen completely in love with podcasts, so much so that "I feel robbed" that she hadn't produced nor listened to any podcasts before this year, said the rising ninth-grader at Dalton Junior High School. "I love it, (because) podcasting feels deeply personal and rooted in yourself, (as) you pour yourself into the medium."

"I don't want any kids to feel robbed like Kate," said Andrea Marsh, a rising ninth-grader at Dalton Junior High who promotes podcasting at every opportunity. "I want everyone to at least have that chance."

Podcasting is "very involved, hands-on, and not simple, but it's like a little piece of you that you send out into the world," Jones said. "It's very raw."

Receiving The Advocate award at the county-wide Speak Up Whitfield awards ceremony for her podcast "felt right to me," Jones said. "It was for a niche audience, and I was advocating for inclusivity in school."

"I saw a huge problem with homophobia at our school," with at least two cases where students were physically bullied, but their aggressors weren't punished, because teachers and administrators weren't aware of the emotional, mental and physical violence, Jones said. "I have friends who, a good day for them is to not be physically (harmed), and that's not (acceptable, because) school is supposed to be a safe place."

Jones went to both the aggressors and the victims and asked them the same questions for her podcast, she said.

"I have the (former) on tape saying absolute trash things about these friends of mine, then got my friends to" respond, as well.

To her dismay, the aggressors were "proud of their homophobia, and, in some cases, their racism," she said. "They feel like (minority groups) get better treatment, and that they are the victims."

Jones "was our investigator," said Amanda Triplett, the audio, visual, technology and film instructor, school publicist and webmaster at Dalton Junior High who launched the local student podcasting network. "I'm so impressed by her skills."

"As a person who has been through questioning my own sexuality, I'm thankful for the opportunity to raise awareness about something I see as a major problem," Jones said. "A big step would be to create an atmosphere that (discrimination) is not OK, (and) we need to change the 'normal' at our school."

"I enjoy talking to people I disagree with, and I enjoy seeing the other side," Jones said. "Sometimes, I change my mind," but, in this case, "I'm even more sure that I'm right" in standing up for inclusivity.

"Making you uncomfortable makes you think, and then you can widen your perspective," Jones said. "If I made one person (reevaluate their discriminatory attitudes), then I reached my goal."

"We have to be open to being a little bit uncomfortable," Marsh said. "That's how we grow."

Marsh's podcast "My Melatonin," which finished in national media organization NPR's top 12 for middle school podcasts last year, was very much "seventh-grade Andrea," as "I love to make podcasts about what is connected to me currently," which meant she needed a new angle for her followup this year, a process that induced "anxiety," she said. "I could feel it bubbling up when I stepped to the microphone."

She took a step back and wondered, "What is success? What do we mean when we talk about it?"

She decided to seek counsel from her mother and stepmother, "two successful women who have also had their hard patches, and it was a revelation to me," she said. "The fear of failure won't take you anywhere, (as) when they stumbled, it made them better."

That podcast, "What Now?," helped earn Marsh La Gran Voz — "the grand voice" award — at Speak Up Whitfield's awards ceremony.

With podcasting, "you can get your emotions out, which is amazing to me," Marsh said. "I hope that never stops."

"We need the buy-in from teachers, though, so their kids can have podcasts," Triplett said. "If anyone wants to have a podcast or wants their kids to have podcasts, contact me" at Amanda.Triplett@dalton.k12.ga.us.