We're two months into this year's Student Podcast Challenge, and we've already received entries from more than 200 students! It's the fifth anniversary of the contest, and like every other year, we've been getting a range of stories, from personal narratives to passion projects to class assignments.

But, in listening to them over the last couple of weeks, I've noticed one thing that many of our favorite podcasts have in common: a willingness by students to take on tough conversations that many of us, adults, walk away from. Others remind us of the joys in life, whether that's team sports, or holiday gift exchanges.

Below are six early entries we love (listed in alphabetical order), selected from middle and high school podcasts submitted on or before March 3.

A Homemade Holiday

Taking place during Christmas holidays, a high school senior from Portland, Ore. interviews her family about their appreciation for homemade presents.

Abi & Angelica's Podcast

In this entry, two middle schoolers in Irvington, N.Y. interview a high school art teacher about the connection between mental health and creativity. They discuss how students' mental wellness is reflected in their artwork and how art can help express difficult emotions.

Breakfest for Dinner

This episode from five middle schoolers from Weddington Matthews, N.C. discusses the benefits and drawbacks of co-teaching. They dive into what prevents schools from hiring more teachers and how this shortage affects both teachers and students.

HER: The Podcast

Created as a final project for an African American studies class, two students from King of Prussia, Pa. host a talk-show-style podcast that spotlights a historical figure whose story is often left out in the books. This first episode, and their submission, zooms in on the iconic Black entrepreneur Madam CJ Walker.

What is Home?

In this entry, one Seattle high schooler asks this question to friends, loved ones and strangers: "What do you consider to be home?" She reflects on the meaning of home and how her quick chats on home can provide so much insight on different people's lives.

Why is dance so important to me?

Another one from Seattle, this podcast is all about dance. One high school student and lifelong dancer reflects on how dance has impacted the way she feels in her body but also shaped her identity.

Teachers, here's one potential group exercise: Listen to these episodes together and talk through with your students (1) what you like or (2) what you don't like about these entries. Think about the story, the narrator's tone, the sound quality, the music – what can you learn from each podcast?

Hope these can cheer on our early birds. And if you're inspired to enter, you still have plenty of time! Deadline is April 28. Find more info on this year's Student Podcast Challenge here.

Visual design and development by: LA Johnson

Edited by: Steve Drummond

Audio story produced by: Michael Levitt

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.



In classrooms all over the country, students are recording interviews, writing out scripts and sitting down at a microphone to tell their stories. Yep, NPR's Student Podcast Challenge is up and running. It's the fifth year, and entries are already starting to roll in. Janet Woojeong Lee of our education team brings us a sample of some standout early submissions.

JANET WOOJEONG LEE, BYLINE: As an education reporter, I love this entry from five middle schoolers in Weddington Matthews, N.C. They take on a policy question we've been asking for a long time - how many students in a classroom is too many? They put that question to one of their science teachers, Mrs. Pooler.


CHRISTINA POOLER: When there's so many, I find it hard to give individual attention to students because other students will get off-task. So that part of the behavior management becomes a concern with large classes.

LEE: Mrs. Pooler's husband also teaches at the school, and Mr. Pooler struggles with classroom management, too.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: Do you ever find it hard to control your class?

MARC POOLER: Every single day.

LEE: So these students set out to interview their classmates - what if every class could have more than one teacher?


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: How many teachers are in one of your classes?


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: Do you think there should be more than two teachers in a class?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: No. Mrs. Pooler has it handled.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: How many teachers are in one of your classes?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #3: I just got one.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: Do you think there should be more than two teachers in the class?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #3: I mean, I don't really see a reason for there to be more than two teachers.

LEE: Two months into this year's student podcast challenge, more than 200 students have submitted their work. And as you can imagine, not a lot of them deal with education policy.


LUCIA MCINANEY-FLECHT: Hi, I'm Lucia McInaney-Flecht, and this is my story. During school, if you went through the day with me, you'd see me shuffling and dancing throughout the halls.

LEE: Lucia is a high-schooler at The Bush School in Seattle. And like she says, she loves dance. But making a podcast about it? - it filled her with new emotions and a deep appreciation for her dance teacher.


MCINANEY-FLECHT: I felt this flood of joy and happiness, and I realized that dance, for me, wasn't just about my own love of movement anymore. It was about this new feeling - that I am who I am because of some very important people who were in my life from a very early age.

LEE: Another student from Seattle, Bella Stevenson, interviewed a handful of people in her hometown - her friends, family, even strangers. The high school senior asked everyone the same first question.


BELLA STEVENSON: What do you consider home?

LEE: Bella answers the question too, and she brings us to her father's hometown in Montana.


STEVENSON: Sitting on the porch and smelling the summer air while the sun slowly falls behind the mountains of Big Sky, Mont., watching the sunset fills me with an indescribable feeling - as if I've lived this life before. I feel safe. I feel complete. And most of all, I feel at home.

LEE: The examples we just listened to are intimate, personal stories. But every year, we also get a lot of entries that are kind of like a talk show. And many of them display incredible chemistry between students.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #4: On today's episode, guys, we have Madam C. J. Walker.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #5: The queen herself.

LEE: Like this podcast from Skaya Moakley (ph) and JJ Myarana (ph), high school seniors in King of Prussia, Pa. Their podcast celebrates people of color who are often left out of history books. And in the first episode, they spotlight a Black entrepreneur who founded her own cosmetics line in the early 1900s.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #4: She's actually here in the studio today. Hey, Madam. I'm kidding. She's actually not here. Gotcha.

LEE: To be clear, these students did not interview someone who died in 1919. But they share the story of Madam C. J. Walker, who had a scalp disorder that led to hair loss. She spent years creating natural remedies and products for growing hair.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #4: And with only $1.25, she launched her own line of hair products and straighteners for African American women, called Madam Walker's Wonderful Hair Grower.


LEE: So you just listened to a few examples of what your podcast could sound like. And you've still got plenty of time. Teachers and students, this is your friendly reminder to enter NPR's Student Podcast Challenge. Deadline is April 28. Good luck.

Janet Woojeong Lee, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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