Podcasting allows students to 'write your own story'

·4 min read

Jul. 25—Receiving first place in the grades five-eight category for the county-wide Speak Up Whitfield for her podcast was "really surprising" for Soraya McEuen, a rising ninth-grader at Dalton Junior High School, so "I paused and then stumbled up to the stage," she said with a chuckle.

"You can express tone and emotions much better" in a podcast than other media, and "it feels like someone might listen to you, because podcasts are more entertaining than, like, an essay, so it makes people want to listen to your point."

"You hear that voice, and you feel involved as a listener," said Amanda Triplett, the audio, visual, technology and film instructor, school publicist and webmaster at Dalton Junior High School and the creator of the Speak Up Whitfield podcast challenge. "If people listened to each other more, we wouldn't have these divides."

McEuen's "podcast was so good," said fellow podcaster and classmate Kate Jones, who received The Advocate award for her podcast, "Broken Boxes." McEuen "100% deserved that" award at the Speak Up Whitfield awards ceremony.

McEuen's podcast, "Everybody's Doing It," examined the consumption of pornographic materials by youth, and its impact on them.

"It's a problem I've seen since the start of middle school with friends of mine and" non-friends alike, said McEuen. "They get addicted and go back to it over and over."

And that obsession limits their social development, she said: "I've seen it in my school, (as these students) can't even get through a conversation without (resorting) to sexual innuendos."

Initially, McEuen's podcast "was just me talking," but Triplett encouraged her that "it could be better," so she interviewed a pair of counselors at her school, who provided valuable additional perspective, she said.

"They had lots of stories" of students they'd counseled, and they offered "the point of view of parents, which added a lot, I think."

Amna Hussein's "An Ode to My Hijab" received runner-up in the grades five-eight category, while "For a Better Life" by Hector Rios and Angel Sanchez was third. Jailyn Garcia's "Experiences With Newcomers" received fourth, Brier Hall's "Heard Immunity" was fifth, "Will I Disappoint?" by Valeria Alvarez was sixth, Sophia Ridley's "Divided" was seventh, "Life in a Mexican Household" by Brandon Luna, Alex Saucedo and Tristan Sosa was eighth, "Have You Eaten Today?" by Jimena Torres was ninth and "From Page to Screen" by Carlos Marquez and Alexis Plaza-Soto was tenth.

Over scones at Panera, Eva Ashcraft and Elyanna Quintero discussed teaming on a podcast about Florida's so-called "Don't Say Gay Bill," which restricts what can be taught in schools, but "we thought everyone would do that, and we wanted to be different," Ashcraft said. That led to a discussion about how the "The Parties of American Politics" have evolved over the centuries, and it became an informational podcast that received first place for grades 9-12 in Speak Up Whitfield.

"We wanted to keep our podcast unbiased, and that was probably a reason for our success with the judges," said Ashcraft, who completed ninth grade at Dalton Junior High at the end of the 2021-22 school year. "It was very much informational, not opinionated."

"I really enjoyed the research process, which opened my eyes, (as) I read forums of people who believe different than myself," she said. "I used to get angry (at those people and comments), but now I've come to understand that we all believe what we do for a reason, and I want to know why they got to that point."

Triplett appreciates that "podcasting does this," she said. "Eva had to evaluate where she stands and look at why others stand where they stand."

Too often, American education promotes "breadth instead of depth, but you can't create a good podcast without depth," Triplett said. "You can't make a surface-level podcast well."

"I love hearing the other side, and I have a hope deep inside me that I can change the opinion of someone else," said Ashcraft. "I believe what I believe because I feel it's the least harmful to other people, and I hope I can help people open their eyes to see they might be harming others" with their convictions.

"I love a good, civil debate, but most people I converse with usually are on the same wavelength as me," she said. Those who "disagree don't often want to talk to me."

"Am I an Individual?" by Andrea Marsh and Navah Jordan received second behind "The Parties of American Politics" in the high school division, while Lilli Sharp's "Is Feminism the Way?" received third. "Necessary Step" by Ellis Stephens received fourth, Mauricio Guerrero's "Universal Language" was fifth, sixth place went to "Newcomers" by Karina Arauz, "Juvenile Caretakers" by Carlos McKee and Diego Santana was seventh, "Unexpected" by Nohelia Bautista-Perez and Joccelyn Gudino was eighth, "Are You Afraid?" by Lizbeth Guzman and Storm Orick was ninth and Harrison Whitlock was tenth with "Numb."

Podcasting "is a conversation with no rules — you can do almost anything — and it is truly authentic," Ashcraft said. "I'm a theater kid, but in theater, the words are written for you; with podcasting, you write your own story and tell it yourself."