2021 Student Podcast Challenge Finalists Announced It's that time of year! Listen to our middle school and high school finalists now.

This Year's Favorites: Our 2021 SPC Finalists

This Year's Favorites: Our 2021 SPC Finalists

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LA Johnson
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LA Johnson

Sibling drama, identity crises — so much climate change — and of course: the challenges of school and life in the pandemic. This year NPR's Student Podcast Challenge has all those things, and more.

For the last few months, students all over the country have been doing what we do here at NPR — recording interviews, editing tape, creating home studios and reading their stories into a microphone. This year's contest brought us more than 2,600 podcasts from 47 states and the District of Columbia.

Today, we're announcing our finalists! We've listened to every single podcast entry and narrowed the list down to 12 middle school finalists and 15 high school finalists. You can read and listen to the full list here (or just keep scrolling!)

From this list, our judges will select our two grand-prize winners, and then in about a week, we'll announce those winners. (We also identified about 200 honorable mentions and we'll be announcing those soon as well.)

Among the many outstanding entries who made our list of finalists are:

  • Three high school students from the Lower Kuskokwim School District  in southwest Alaska who interviewed their classmates about a family activity that really bonded them during the pandemic: subsistence hunting. Listen to the chase here.
  • More than 100 years ago, a politician shot and killed a newspaper editor in broad daylight in Columbia, S.C.. A historian, two local journalists, a famous South Carolina prosecutor, and the great nephew of the victim help students at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School tell the lost story.
  • In the wise words of 5th grader Lucille Bornand from Richland Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles: "Slugs are underrated!" Learn more about those lovable "garden blobs" here
  • Ever heard about the time, back in 1939, when King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England visited the United States ... and had a hot dog party? Nope, we hadn't heard of it either. Students at the Young Writers Institute in Cary, N.C., fill us in.

If there's one thing we notice about this year's student podcasts, is that they're getting better. We heard a lot of students lean into video chat and phone-call interviews. We get it — NPR reporters are doing the same thing! Students did a great job of making those interviews feel natural and intentional.

And, as always, we were surprised by the creative problem-solving. In one case, a group of seventh graders from Canton, Ga., surveyed students via text message to gather data about this question: What do you wish your parents knew?. And then, the students themselves read the answers out loud to create a dramatic reading for their podcast: "The Realistic Life of Future Adults."

Another big trend — one we also saw in our college category — was a new focus on families. Students interviewed siblings, parents or grandparents about family histories or big issues.

In this category, one podcast that stole our collective hearts came from sisters Astrid and Zouri Johnson in Baltimore. Astrid, 16, and Zouri, 9, are self-proclaimed best friends who shared their thoughts about all kinds of things. You can listen here.

And, as in the previous two years, students were remarkably open and honest in talking about their identity. Seventh-grader Andrea Marsh told us what it's like to be Black in 2021, weaving history and present events together in "My Melanin." Kriti Sarav from Chicago, discussed her complex feelings behind her culture and identity in "My Very Own Bully."

Our judges love when it's clear that students spent a long time on their entries. These types of podcasts are generally investigations with good sourcing and background research. This year more than ever we saw students investigating what they know best — their own backyard. Eight of our 27 finalists worked on local investigations.

In West Windsor, N.J., Christian Gobo and Anna Rubenstein explored their community's response to a local controversy. On December 1st, 2020, a van full of angry protesters arrived at the Teng family's home. The protestors stayed for 37 days, accusing the father of being a spy working for the Communist party in China. Listen to how the neighborhood responded in "Shouts In The Quiet."

Across the country in Ashland, Ore., high school students investigated what a year with no theater performances means for their town and its main revenue stream: the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The pandemic was more than just an interruption to performances; it was an existential crisis. Twelve students from Ashland High School investigate in "Tea, Toast, and Truth: To Be Or Not To Be?"

In Lexington, Ky., seventh-graders Braeden Collett, Brennan Williams, Bo Porter and Dominique Jann explored the various things that get done behind the scenes to make their school run smoothly. They asked their classmates: "How many maintenance people do you think are needed to take care of this entire campus?" The answers ranged from 25 to 50, but to find out how many actually take care of Sayre School you'll have to give the podcast a listen.

Congratulations to all the finalists!

2021 Student Podcast Challenge: The Finalists

High School Finalists

Loss and Transformation

By: Jonetta Harrison, Makiyah Hicks, Quin Wells

Submitted By: Thom Woodward, Duke Ellington School of The Arts

A far too familiar story of violence and devastation, gun violence is an ongoing epidemic in many communities around the United States. Three TDP students, Jonetta Harrison, Makiyah Hick, and Quin Wells spoke with three family surviving members of victims of this gun violence.

The result, their self-produced podcast about "Loss and Transformation."

Music by Elijah Woodward

Shouts In The Quiet

By: Christian Gobo, Anna Rubenstein

Submitted by: Glenn Allison, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South

When the Teng family moved from China to West Windsor, New Jersey, they hoped to begin a safe and peaceful chapter of their lives. But on December 1st, 2020, a van full of angry protesters arrived at their house, shouting accusations that the father was a spy working for the Communist Party in China. For 37 days, the protests continued, but the Tengs didn't face them alone.

In this podcast, West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South students Christian Gobo and Anna Rubenstein explore the community's response to the controversy.

Shoot Again You Coward

By: Elizabeth Burns, Sophia Conner, Addie-Grace Cook, Avery Goodale, Madeline Hurst, Brooklyn Moore, Pete Peterson, Liam Quan, Alexander Roberts, Daniel Sobel, Abby Suber, Ellie Tanner, Adelaide Wood, Adair Wood

Submitted By: Julie Firetag, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School

A story of corruption, racism, murder, and the fight for freedom of the press. A politician shoots a newspaper editor in broad daylight in Columbia, South Carolina, over one hundred years ago. The story has been largely forgotten yet it is eerily tied to our political climate today. A historian, two local journalists, a famous South Carolina prosecutor, and the great nephew of the victim help us tell this lost story.

Tea Toast and Truth?

By: Isadora Millay, Anya Moore, Mason Decker, Kena Robertshaw, Izzy Cantu, Amelie Dimitre, Amelie Duetz, Mirandah Davis-Powell, Ella Gibbs, Sophia Varley, Zia Brandstetter, Tate Oliva

Submitted by: Shane Abrams, Ashland High School

Ashland, Oregon, is home to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, an internationally acclaimed, nearly year-round theater that stages both Shakespeare and new works. Our town's economy, diversity, and institutions are symbiotically intertwined with the Festival, so the pandemic was more than just an interruption to performances; it was an existential crisis, a "To be or not to be?" Ashlanders depend on the answer, and we wonder just how our town will transform as OSF reimagines itself to survive the turmoil.

My Very Own Bully

By: Kriti Sarav

Submitted by: Menaka Sarav, University of Chicago Laboratory Schools

My podcast submission is my personal narrative on growing up Indian in a world full of different cultures, ethnicities and backgrounds. I talk about the struggle I've experienced trying to be 'normal' in this world, being respectful of my culture and accepting of other cultures, and most importantly being kind to myself no matter what colour my skin is, what religion I practice or what food I eat. The internal conflict I experience daily because of my societal identifiers, and the story I live, is one millions of American's face to this day, and I hope other teens can listen to my story and know they are not the only ones struggling with their identities.

High School Band in the Pandemic

By: Troy Menzies

Submitted by: Ross Hecht, Allentown High School

The narrator and producer of this podcast, Troy M, a Senior at Allentown High School in New Jersey, presents the listener with the challenges high school band students have encountered through the pandemic. His podcast, also an entry into the NPR Student Podcast Challenge, offers insight to how music students are adapting and overcoming.

A Town Divided

By: Cecilia Mazzocco

Submitted by: Kelley Kreiger, Bellefonte Area High School

A small, rural, Pennsylvanian community finds itself in turmoil in the midst of the presidential election. Calls of racism and cultural appropriation of the school's nickname "the red raiders" are at the center of this controversy.

Experimental Music

By: Arturo Taquechel

Submitted by: Cristina Carbonell, Someset Academy Charter High

The short-length podcast discusses the value of experimental music as a genre as well as explaining the concept of experimentalism in music as a whole. Examples are given as to what constitutes the elements of experimental music through sound and examples of bands and songs. Further elaboration into what makes experimental music valuable is described as the alteration of musical conventions to create a sound as new and bold as it is pleasant to listen to. The splicing of instruments in genres typically not known for the sound produced or the use of something as unorthodox as destroying office paper are elements that make up the DNA of experimentalism in music, all that and more is what should make experimental music at the very least intriguing to the listener.

Teens and Ink

By: Julian Fausto, Eric Guadarrama

Submitted by: Mark Sujak, J. Sterling Morton East High School

My co host and I will be discussing the topic of teens and ink. Please check it out. We will mention the good and the bad of teens getting a tattoo, but also personal experiences.

Astrid and Zouri

By: Astrid Johnson

Submitted by: Angela Balcita, Adele Dinerstein, The Park School of Baltimore

What is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to you? What is something that you used to believe as a kid, and now know is not true? These are some of the questions in this interview between sisters who were brought together by the pandemic. Reflect on the questions yourself and get advice from a nine year old. Follow along with Astrid (16 yrs) and Zouri (9 yrs), and see the dynamic of their supportive and hopeful discussion through giggles and empathy towards one another.

YK Delta

By: Kaylee King, Ethan Lincoln, Jamin Crow

Submitted by: Patrick Williams, Lower Kuskokwim School District

COVID-19 has changed school in the YK Delta, giving students more time to practice subsistence.

Social Media and Eating Disorders

By: Syndey Finkelstein, Cecilia Demolli, Florencia Feoli, Madeline DeJohn, Xantine Agar, Rhea Basile-Maslow

Submitted by: David Weintraub, Newton South High School

The podcasters explore the relationship between eating disorders and their roots on social media, with an emphasis on "What I Eat In A Day" posts. Anchored by searing interviews with young women who have struggled with eating disorders, the podcast tells a harrowing but enlightening story both old and new.

Nostalgia Podcast

By: Juan Munoz

Submitted by: Mark Sujak, J. Sterling Morton East High School

This episode of the podcast is my own reflection about nostalgia and the realization of how vastly different every person's childhood was growing up. I go into one of my own experiences as a child to illustrate that point.

Wind River Indian Reservation

By: Larami Azure, Laylony Bell, Tru Coulston, Erin Elk, Kaya Friday, Kyler Mann, LaDainain Mason, Shatoni Shoyo, Leonardean Standing Rock, Kaylee Sun Goes Slow, Shylee Tillman

Submitted by: Charleigh Wolfe, Fort Washakie High School

Students of Fort Washakie High School in Fort Washakie, Wyoming detail their experiences with living on the Wind River Indian Reservation during the Covid-19 Pandemic. They recount the hardships, the ways their community took care of its members, and the reasons they found for gratitude and hope.

Storms Over San Antonio

By: Cyra Paladini

Submitted by: Amy Pozza, Basis San Antonio Shavano Campus

On February 14th, 2021, an uncharacteristic winter storm devastated the Texan infrastructure. San Antonio student Cyra Paladini documents her experience during the week long power and water outages. She discusses their cause, and why a week of snow men and infrequent showers may bear a more ominous message for the planet.

Middle School Finalists

Stardew Valley

By: Allegra Durst

Submitted by: Kimberly Trotto, Clearwater Fundamental Middle School

I'm Allegra , an 8th grader at Clearwater Fundamental Middle School. This podcast, loosely based on Stardew Valley, is about Annie, a girl who recently moved from the city to a small town. Unfortunately, all of her neighbors think she's crazy! They make absurd assumptions that may seem crazier than Annie herself! So press play and listen as all your troubles fade into laughs! Enjoy!

Realistic Life of Future Adults

By: Massiel Acosta, Ethan Hadarits, Addison Martin, Natalie Way, Joseph Baker, Arden Harrington, Christian Guitierrez, Ryan Lopez, Maddox Robinson

Submitted by: Cindy Robinson, Canton Homeschool Resources & The Haven Academy

The 7th grade students at Canton Homeschool Resources & The Haven Academy have created their own podcast called The Realistic Life of Future Adults. It is created by future adults, for future adults. We created this podcast for the NPR Student Podcast Challenge.

Whodunnit?

By: Brennan Williams, Braeden Collett, Bo Porter, Dominique Jann, Charlotte Harris, Preston Trout

Submitted By: Brad Becker, Sayre Middle School

Seventh graders, Braeden Collett, Brennan Williams, Bo Porter and Dominique Jann explored the various things that get done behind the scenes to make the campus run smoothly so we can do what we need to do every day. Who does these things ? Our plan before the pandemic was to make this into a series called WhoDunnit ? Our next podcast in this series will be about the food service staff!

Slug Your Way Out of the Pandemic

By: Lucille Bornand

Submitted by: Kimberly Goodman, Richland Avenue Elementary

Slugs are underrated.Most people think that they are just lazy garden pests. Lucille explains why slugs should get more respect. Slugs can teach us a lot if we take a closer look at them. She shows how the little things in life-like slugs--can change our everyday pandemic life for the better.

Royal Hotdog Party

By: Rebecca Zubarev-Foxworth

Submitted by: Casey Midkiff, Young Writers Institute

History can sometimes be a snooze, can't it? And don't celebrities seem somehow better or different than us? In this podcast, your host Becca takes these two common ideas and turns them on their head by telling you about the time King George VI and Queen Elizabeth of England visited the US in 1939 and had a hot dog party. If you like-or even don't like, for that matter-short, interesting(not boring)moments in history, this podcast is definitely for you.

Let's Talk About Gender

By: Naomi Burum

Submitted by: Tracy Riggs, Cedar Bluff Middle School

Join Naomi as she explores gender inequality and how it effects men, women, and those who are non-gendered.

The Perfect Girl

By: Jennifer Song

Submitted by: Maysan Haydar, Birchwood School of Hawken

Birchwood School of Hawken eighth grader Jennifer Song describes the evolving and inconsistent standards of what society labels "beautiful" or "perfect" and how that affects how girls think of themselves.

Balance

By: Madison Saltz

Submitted by: Hayley Tepper, A.E. Wright Middle School

Exploring the importance of balancing negativity and positivity, we will go through a series of lighthearted interviews and explanations for a wholesome, educational seven minutes.

Inclusion

By: Julia Anchin, Joseph Borella, Charlotte Manasse, Hannah Manasse

Submitted by: Kathleen Fox, Seely Place School

Things we'd like to change in the world...

Students wanted to talk about societal ills in the form of school environment and how, starting small and at school, they could make a difference and be more welcoming and inclusive.

On the Frontlines

By: Gabriella Tarpey, Guinevere Treadwell, Maya Harrison, Sadie Horowitz, Josephine Strouk, Oliver Bettinelli

Submitted by: Robert Adanto, Brentwood School

On the Frontlines is a middle school podcast produced by Eagle Hour students, featuring interviews with Dr. Laurie Naito, Pediatrician and Emergency Medical Physician in Los Angeles, and Dr. Jaqueline Montoya, a Critical Care Physician in Miami, Florida. Both doctors have been fighting the Covid-19 pandemic since its onset.

The Perfect Age

By: Ellis Stephens

Submitted by: Amanda Triplett, Dalton Middle School

In his podcast, 8th grader Ellis Stephens explores age, too young for this or too old for that. Is there a perfect age?

My Melanin

By: Andrea Marsh

Submitted by: Amanda Triplett, Dalton Middle School

A 7th grader examines what it means to be black in 2021, from multiple perspectives, connecting history to present.