Dispatches From The Schoolyard In middle school and high school, we're figuring out how to fit in and realizing that there are things about ourselves that we can't change — whether or not we want to. This week, we're turning the mic over to student podcasters, who told us about the big issues shaping their nascent identities.
NPR logo

Dispatches From The Schoolyard

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/704860132/725556864" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Dispatches From The Schoolyard

Dispatches From The Schoolyard

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/704860132/725556864" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF BELL RINGING)

GENE DEMBY, HOST:

Shereen, remember high school? Remember how stressful that time was?

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, HOST:

You know, high school wasn't as stressful for me as middle school was. Back in my day, we called it junior high by the way (laughter).

DEMBY: Junior high.

MERAJI: It was a very awkward time. I was really trying to fit in. I went around telling everybody my last name was Merahi (ph), that I was Mexican (laughter)...

DEMBY: What?

MERAJI: ...Because I wanted to be like all my other classmates. I did not want to be different. I totally wish I could get a do-over knowing what I know now and knowing that I'm unique and special in the world. But, no.

DEMBY: Oh, man. So when I was a teenager - not middle school - but in high school, I was in this group - this is embarrassing - I'm going to own it - called COURT which stood for Chaste Outstanding Urban Righteous Teens, and it was a summer (laughter)...

MERAJI: Chaste (laughter).

DEMBY: Yes. It was a group through my church, and we advocated for celibacy until marriage, you know, because that's God's way.

MERAJI: Mmm hmm.

DEMBY: There's a poster out there somewhere - I imagine in Philadelphia - of me and this other cat that I was in the group with holding a basketball, pointing to the reader looking at the poster like, yo, get on the court.

MERAJI: Someone find that and tweet it at us please.

DEMBY: Listen.

MERAJI: We're @NPRCodeSwitch. Anyway.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: Obviously, middle school, high school - it's a time where we're figuring out what's going to help us fit in, what's going to help us have fun.

DEMBY: Mmm hmm.

MERAJI: What's going to help us, in Gene's case, go to heaven.

DEMBY: Yes.

MERAJI: It's also a time, though, when we're realizing that there are things about us that we cannot change whether or not we want to.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

WILL MEARS: I am autistic.

AUBREY WESMIS: I am hard of hearing.

INTI RIOS: Both my parents were born in Mexico.

ANGELICA: We just happen to be girls of color.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: We come from the Real Bird (ph) family from the Crow Reservation.

STELLAN PETTO: Transgender, meaning me.

MERAJI: Those kids' voices are from the hundreds of hours of audio from NPR's Student Podcast Challenge. Our friends over at NPR's Ed team had teachers turn their classrooms into audio studios and their assignments into podcasts. And 25,000 students participated in the contest from all 50 states. I was one of the judges, Gene.

DEMBY: Oh, really?

MERAJI: Oh, yes. I laughed. I did cry 'cause, you know, I love to cry.

DEMBY: Mmm hmm.

MERAJI: There was a lot of gems in there, podcast gold. And so many of the stories were about identity.

DEMBY: And so on the show today, we're going to hear from some of those young people who are unpacking the things that make them who they are at this critical point in their lives and pushing back on how the world looks at them and judges them.

MERAJI: And we're going to start with eighth-graders from Bronx Prep Middle School talking about something so many people don't want to talk about, and it's something that happens to them every single month.

LITZY ENCARNACION: I was at my aunt's house, and my aunt was, like, are you sick? And I was, like, no. And then she looked at my private area, and she's, like, are you sick? And I was like, oh, yeah. Like, she couldn't even say the word menstruation because we do have a word for that in Spanish, but she couldn't even use it.

MERAJI: I don't even know what that word is, so I'm going to have to look that up.

DEMBY: Menstruacion (ph)?

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: Menstruacion (laughter). It probably is. But once again, my mom never said that to me.

DEMBY: Oh, wow, wait.

MERAJI: Oh, we never talked about it. So, mami (ph), what's the word from menstruation in Spanish?

DEMBY: So you could have used this podcast that they have at the Bronx Prep.

MERAJI: I really could have used this podcast.

From NPR's Ed team, Elissa Nadworny went to the Bronx to meet with one of the two grand prize winners to help them tell their story.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: It took the girls a few meetings to figure out what they wanted to talk about.

ASHLEY AMANKWAH: At first, we thought we were going to do immigration or talk about the LGBTQ.

CAROLINE ABREU: A few of us were on our periods at the time...

ASHLEY: Yeah, we were.

(LAUGHTER)

CAROLINE: And so we were talking about, like - you were like, oh, my God. This happened today.

KASSY ABAD: We were all just ranting. And then we were like, why don't we just talk about that?

NADWORNY: Without realizing it, they had landed on a winning idea. They called their podcast "Sssh! Periods," the creation of seven 13- and 14-year-olds - middle schoolers who come from different friend groups and different backgrounds. Their families are from places like Ghana, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. And together, on Thursdays after school, they researched, wrote, recorded and edited their podcast. Here's students Jasmin Acosta and Litzy Encarnacion.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "SSSH! PERIODS")

JASMIN ACOSTA: Sixty-seven percent of female students polled at Bronx Prep Middle School said that they feel uncomfortable discussing their periods at school because it's not anybody's business.

LITZY: We're still in middle school at this point, but the problem gets even larger when we take it out into the community, when it's grown women trying to support their families.

NADWORNY: The podcast gets into the stigma of talking about periods, the many code words we use for it and the stress of the pink tax - that's when products geared towards women are more expensive.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "SSSH! PERIODS")

JASMIN: Low-income women struggle to meet basic necessities because they don't have the resources to take care of themselves and their bodies.

NADWORNY: The girls drew on their own experience with periods. Eighth-grade podcaster Ashley Amankwah explains.

ASHLEY: The boys, especially in our class - it's like they always make fun of periods. Even the teachers, they feel something wrong about periods.

NADWORNY: When they were making the podcast, the girls say some of their teachers would make a face or get squirmy when they learned about their topic. When they'd meet after school, they'd be constantly moving to different classrooms, trying to find quiet spaces where they could openly talk about trying to hide a tampon in their tight jeans pockets or bleeding through their pants, all without making the staff feel uncomfortable. Their middle school, nestled among apartment buildings in the South Bronx, was not the most period-friendly place, they say. Thirteen-year-old Kathaleen Restitullo brings us to the girl's bathroom...

KATHALEEN RESTITULLO: Yeah. It's here.

NADWORNY: ...And reads from a flyer taped to a stall door.

KATHALEEN: OK. It says (reading) how to properly dispose feminine products.

The first one's - do make sure no one views or handles products. It's not even saying the word pad. It just says product. Just, like, don't let anyone see that you are on your period.

NADWORNY: Fourteen-year-old Raizel Febles doesn't want to hide her period anymore.

RAIZEL FEBLES: Like, oh, you're on your period, but you're not really supposed to mention it. You're supposed to keep it a secret, and you kind of are shamed for having it, which sucks because it's something so natural and so normal. And it happens to every woman.

NADWORNY: There's even a schoolwide code word so girls don't have to say pad or tampon. Instead, they have to call it marshmallow.

We heard something about something called, like, marshmallow.

CAROLINE: Oh, my God. yes.

(GROANING)

CAROLINE: I will speak of this. If we want a pad and we don't have it, we have to go to the main office and we have to ask for a marshmallow. It shouldn't be like, oh - (whispering) I need a marshmallow or I need a pad.

It should just be like, I need a pad. I'm on my period.

NADWORNY: Caroline Abreu and Raizel Febles say the podcast has been a sort of liberation - finally, a group of girls where it's not a big deal to leak out your pad, and it's celebrated when you ask to borrow a tampon. It took a bit, says Kassy Abad. At first, talking about periods really made her feel uncomfortable. But then she learned...

KASSY: What happens to me happens to all these girls, too. It made me feel more comfortable, made me be like, oh, wow. Caroline bled through. I bled through before. And it makes me feel more, like, safe.

NADWORNY: It's something amazing when you're like, wow, I'm really not alone in this. This is something that I maybe felt weird about, and now I don't have to. Like, what a relief.

CAROLINE: That's how - that's why we made this podcast because we wanted to make it a normal subject.

LITZY: Exactly. That...

NADWORNY: And these girls - they have some idea about how to change things in their school. Here's Litzy Encarnacion.

LITZY: First of all, when we have those yearly talks about hygiene and stuff, they always separate the girls and the boys. The girls talk about periods and vaginal hygiene. The boys talk about whatever they talk about. But we're never informed about the opposite sex. But I think that if they are informed about periods, it would be less awkward.

CAROLINE: Exactly.

NADWORNY: They also think the girls bathroom should have free pads and tampons. Their middle school principal says he's open to their suggestions. And the girls say, really, anything to make middle school a tad bit easier.

What is it like to be 13?

CAROLINE: Insecurities, insecurities, insecurities. It's the only word I have to say. Like, it's at an all-time high, I think.

NADWORNY: Plus, Caroline says...

CAROLINE: Being a female 13-year-old is a whole nother thing because it's like we're put on a stage, and sometimes it really breaks us down.

NADWORNY: Litzy says people don't ask 13-year-olds what they think.

LITZY: I'm not even going to lie, though. That was actually my first reaction when we started doing this. Like, no one's going to listen to us because we're still young. And they probably think that we don't know what we're talking about.

NADWORNY: And then a few weeks ago, their teacher, Shehtaz Huq, gathered them together in the hall for a big announcement. She recorded it on her phone.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHEHTAZ HUQ: So ladies, here's the news. Listen. So there were 5,700 entries from middle and high school. And the results came in, and we won middle school.

(SCREAMING)

NADWORNY: There was screaming and hugging and lots of tears.

JASMIN: She made me cry. Ms. Huq was just crying, and I was like, Ms. Huq, don't make me cry. Like, you're making me cry.

RAIZEL: There was just so much in that moment when we found out we won.

NADWORNY: And Litzy who thought, eh, we're just 13, no one asks our opinion...

LITZY: I was like, whoa. So they actually do listen.

(LAUGHTER)

LITZY: I was like, wow. The best part that we won this is that we are people of color from the Bronx. I feel like that was just the best part of all of this...

(SOUNDBITE OF FINGER SNAPPING)

LITZY: ...That now you have a bunch of people of color that are all female that are shining light to your city.

ASHLEY: And the fact that we're all very passionate about this topic and we're not just doing it just to win, but we want to do it to spread, like, you know, knowledge is really, like, good. And I'm so happy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FINGER SNAPPING)

NADWORNY: As we wind down, the girls ask if they can end the interview with the word period. It's a thing now, they say. So let me get out of the way.

ASHLEY AMANKWAH, CAROLINE ABREU, JASMIN ACOSTA, KASSY ABAD, KATHALEEN RESTITULLO, LITZY ENCARNACION AND RAIZEL FEBLES: We are the ladies of Bronx Prep Middle School - period.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: (Snapping fingers) Right, Gene (laughter)? (Speaking Spanish).

DEMBY: Yes.

MERAJI: Thank you, team Bronx. I wish I had this podcast when I was 14 years old.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: After the break...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: People think we still live in teepees and still hunt for food.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANGELICA: I have experienced racism many times.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEARS: Throw a rock next to a school - chances are you'll hit someone with anxiety just because of how brutal peers can be.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: You know you want to hear all that.

DEMBY: Stay with us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: Shereen.

DEMBY: Gene.

MERAJI: CODE SWITCH. And we're back with some of our favorite student podcasts, like this one from Madison (ph) and Angelica (ph). They're fifth-graders from Hillside Elementary School in Needham, Mass.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MADISON: We love to dance, and we are best friends.

ANGELICA: Oh, and we just happen to be girls of color, and we want to discuss how to help stop racism from happening.

DEMBY: Madison and Angelica said they experience racism in their own young lives - girl, I know, I know - from people saying wild stuff about their hair to people refusing to acknowledge Martin Luther King Day. And they've had a lot of people telling them how they're supposed to deal with it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANGELICA: Well, now it's our turn. Take it from two young girls that racism isn't right. It must be stopped. When we are in these types of situations, it is important for us to speak up and let them know that it's not OK.

MERAJI: And they have some policy recommendations.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MADISON: We both think that schools should have a group or a meeting and talk about racism and have teachers talk about it in their classrooms because we think that all kids and adults should know how to fight against racism.

MERAJI: Gene, I think they should be regulars on Ask CODE SWITCH.

DEMBY: Seriously. I mean, that's really good advice.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: Racism isn't the only thing the kids are dealing with, obviously. Aubrey Wesmis (ph) is from Jacksonville, Ill., and she sent us a podcast called "Deaf Culture" (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DEAF CULTURE")

WESMIS: Hello. I am Aubrey Wesmis. I live in a different world than you. I am hard of hearing.

MERAJI: Aubrey wanted her podcast listeners to understand that there's such a thing as deaf culture, complete with language, of course, and theater, cinema, poetry.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DEAF CULTURE")

WESMIS: Deaf people have also developed their own social life. We have done all of these things, and yet the world still has doubts about us.

DEMBY: The world still has doubts about us. Wow.

MERAJI: Well, here are a few things Aubrey wishes people knew about interacting with deaf people. She says when you meet someone new, you should fingerspell your name. She says you'll actually get a name sign once people get to know you better. And if you are signing, don't move your mouth while you're signing. She says that most people think that deaf people or people who are hard of hearing can read lips, and that's not always necessarily the case. So if you're signing, don't move your mouth at the same time. She also says when you're signing, you really need to try and keep your hands steady and maintain eye contact. And if you're trying to get someone's attention who's hard of hearing or deaf, give a casual wave. Don't do a frantic wave because that signals something is wrong. And if you're close to someone, you can just tap them on the arm to get their attention.

DEMBY: And so those are, like, you know, little suggestions about how to interact with someone who might be hard of hearing or deaf, but Aubrey's larger point is that she wants to talk with people.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "DEAF CULTURE")

WESMIS: Trust me. We would love to have a conversation with people, especially if they're learning. Thank you very much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: In Crow Agency, Mont., another group of students wanted to tell the world that they're often doubted and misunderstood, too, for being Native American.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: People think we still live in teepees and still hunt for food.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: We're here to tell you about life on the Crow Reservation. We are the same as you.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: We use modern stuff now, like iPads, iPhones, cars, houses and TVs.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #3: We play Fortnite.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #4: I like to play Call Of Duty.

MERAJI: Just like every other kid...

DEMBY: Just like every...

MERAJI: ...They like to play...

SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI AND GENE DEMBY: Fortnite and Call Of Duty.

DEMBY: When these students in Crow Agency submitted their podcast, their teacher, Connie Michael, told us that many of these students are only the third generation out of Indian boarding schools. And we've talked a little bit about Indian boarding schools before in the podcast.

MERAJI: We have.

DEMBY: It's, like, a very dark chapter in American history that went on for a long time in which the government forcibly took Native kids out of their homes and basically stripped them of their culture, their religion, their language. And the teacher at the school told us that these students sometimes struggle to see how their culture and their heritage can be a good thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #5: We do have something that make us special.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #6: We can speak Crow, like we can say horse.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Speaking Crow).

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #6: We can also count to 10.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Speaking Crow).

MERAJI: They also talked in the podcast about a celebration they have every summer where they get dressed up. They put on beaded necklaces.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #6: And we dance Crow style traditional grass dance, fancy dance and jingle dance. It's a chance to celebrate our culture, but we don't walk around dressed up all day. We wear and shorties and T-shirt.

MERAJI: Reminder to all of you who think that we do this all day - we don't.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEARS: When you are in high school, one of the first things you realize is how much social pressure there is. Throw a rock next to a school - chances are you'll hit someone with anxiety just because of how brutal peers can be.

DEMBY: Yes. That is a very real thing that all of us go through.

MERAJI: But for Will Mears, a ninth-grader in Brookville, Ind...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEARS: When you're on the spectrum, things can be much more difficult. My name is Will. I'll be your host for today, and I am autistic.

DEMBY: And Will says he can't tell you what it's like to have autism because it's such a broad, diverse diagnosis.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEARS: However, I can certainly tell you what it's like to be me.

DEMBY: So, for example, he hates pop quizzes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEARS: Not because I didn't read the chapter, not because I didn't study and not because I didn't know the material. I hate them because it's a change in routine. It's something unexpected, which, for me, makes me anxious to the point where I'm just thinking, what happened? We weren't supposed to have a test today? What happened? What's going on?

MERAJI: And Will is tired of hearing the same old misconceptions.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEARS: Every single person with autism has heard the classic, oh, if you just tried harder, then it would be so much better.

MERAJI: And just like we do on this show, Will brought an expert onto his podcast, a psychologist, Pat Nelson. And he asked him about that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEARS: I personally despise the phrase so...

PAT NELSON: Well - and, you know, in the many, many years that I've been working with people with autism, one thing I know that's very common in the people I've worked with is that by the end of the day, they're exhausted from trying harder, that they are trying and working all the time.

DEMBY: Yeah. And, I mean, that's going to sound familiar to a lot of people who listen to this podcast who don't have autism who have to use a lot of psychic energy to get through the day every day (laughter) and when they code switch...

MERAJI: Mmm hmm.

DEMBY: ...When they try to navigate the world and having to explain themselves.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: Stellan Petto is a sixth-grader at the J. Graham Brown School in Louisville, Ky., and his podcast also taught us a few things.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WHAT IS IT LIKE BEING TRANS?")

STELLAN: Hello, my peeps. Welcome to my first episode of my podcast. Today's topic is what's it like being transgender with special input from my sister and, not to mention, my journey.

MERAJI: Stellan talked all about when he and his family began to figure all this out.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WHAT IS IT LIKE BEING TRANS?")

STELLAN: It started one day. I don't know what day but a day. I was only 6, but I knew; knew something wasn't right, knew that I was different, and I made sure people knew I'll kick and scream, hoping someone would understand me, but they didn't. Everyone just thought I was problematic, but my - but only my mom understood something wasn't quite right. She would take me to doctors and therapists hoping to find, well, I guess, a cure or an answer, wondering why I was always mad. One day, she asked me two simple questions. Stella - my name at the time - what do you love most about yourself? Well, Mommy, I love you and Dadda (ph) and sissy - what I called my sister - but nothing about me. Well, what would you change about yourself? She asked. Oh, Mama (ph), that's easy. I would change everything. I want to be a boy.

DEMBY: Stellan did his expert interview with his sister.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "WHAT IS IT LIKE BEING TRANS?")

STELLAN: OK. And why have you stayed by my side when I was transitioning?

RAEGAN: Not only because you're my little brother and I love you but also because the gender you identify with doesn't change how I see you and how much I respect you because, in the end, it's not really what somebody identifies as. It's what's in their hearts.

STELLAN: Thank you.

MERAJI: I don't care how many times I hear that tape, it makes me tear up every single time I hear it. Stellan, you need to have your own podcast. I will subscribe.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: A lot of these student podcasters talked about immigration, like Inti Rios. She's a freshman at the Thaden School in Bentonville, Ark., and she's the daughter of immigrants.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "TEEN PERSPECTIVES - IMMIGRANT STORIES IN ARKANSAS")

INTI: I myself am not an immigrant, but both my parents were born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States when they were 15.

DEMBY: Inti interviewed people in her state about their immigration stories. She spoke with one 17-year-old boy who told her that he came to the U.S. from El Salvador because he didn't want to have to join a gang. Here's Inti interpreting what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "TEEN PERSPECTIVES - IMMIGRANT STORIES IN ARKANSAS")

INTI: I moved here from El Salvador when I was 13 years old because of the gangs. There's a lot of gangs over there. That is the kind of pain one goes through when living in their country. They were forcing me to join the gang, but I didn't want to, and that's why I came here.

I crossed the border by walking. It took me around a month to get here. For me, it was very surprising because I had never been through anything like that before. I was only 13. I suffered a lot on the way here. And when I reached the border of Guatemala and Mexico, I was left without a coyote. I walked three days, three nights without eating food or drinking water until I finally met someone that helped me, and he helped me contact my family to tell them that I was OK.

When I was in Mexico, the Gulf Cartel caught me. They threatened me, saying they wanted to kill me. That's the kind of stuff that happens when you come walking. Since it was my first time, I was really surprised because I had never suffered that much before in my life. I just wanted to get here and be with my family in the United States.

DEMBY: And now that he's here, Inti says, people like him are still vulnerable.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "TEEN PERSPECTIVES - IMMIGRANT STORIES IN ARKANSAS")

INTI: For example, in Benton and Washington counties, which is where all these people live, ICE provides their officers with authorization to identify, process and, when appropriate, detain immigration offenders that they encounter during their regular, daily law enforcement activity, also known as Section 287(g) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act. Luckily, there are not many Hispanics in northwest Arkansas, so immigrants don't feel left out.

So you and I are no different. Yes, we may have been through different things. Maybe our skin color is different, too. But you are human, and I am human, and we both have feelings, and we both have hearts to love each other with. We are equal. Get to know me, and get to know others before you start judging.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MERAJI: We're headed now from rural Arkansas to small-town Kentucky, and we're going to hear a little bit from one of my favorite podcasts I listened to while I was judging this contest, Gene.

DEMBY: Mmm hmm.

MERAJI: I loved it because I got to learn something that was very different from my experience growing up...

DEMBY: OK.

MERAJI: ...Which is one of the magic things about podcasts, about radio. This is why I got into this business.

DEMBY: Sounds like support your local member stations (laughter).

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: Exactly.

DEMBY: That's what it sounds like.

MERAJI: The podcast is about a crew of high school boys who hang out in their town's Walmart parking lot.

DEMBY: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GREG ROUTE: My name is Greg Route (ph). I drive a 1995 Silverado.

RYAN MAYBERRY: My name's Ryan Mayberry (ph). I drive an '04 F-150.

SCOTT WAYLAND: My name is Scott Wayland (ph). I drive a 1998 Dodge Ram.

WYATT LESORD: My name's Wyatt Lesord (ph). I drive a 2000 GMC Sierra.

KALEB BARNETT: My name is Kaleb Barnett (ph). I drive a 2002 Dodge Ram, and I've been going to Walmart for about three years.

AMANDA WEBB: I'm Amanda Webb (ph) from Ms. Johnson's sixth period, and I'm not part of the Walmart crew, but I will be serving as a moderator for this discussion. So now I think we're going to start with the question that is on everyone's mind - why Walmart?

KALEB: Well, when you live in a small town, and there is literally nothing else to do than just go sit in the parking lot with your buddies and just hang around and talk, I mean, it's Walmart, you know. If you ever need something, you can just run inside and grab it and come back out and go about your day.

AMANDA: OK. Describe the typical Walmart crew member.

SCOTT: Local Walmart crew member wears blue jeans, wears a pair of work boots, listens to any type of music. We're all family there, and anybody is welcome to join us. Some people earn special nicknames - just, like, Catfish, Skeeter, Rooster, Big W, Cowboy, Marlboro and Bubbles.

AMANDA: So, Kaleb, what do you do at the Walmart parking lot?

KALEB: I mean, we pretty much just sit around and talk about trucks and talk about working on stuff and just kind of make stuff up as we go. But when we do get into something, there's - nobody has more fun than we do. I don't care what anybody says.

DEMBY: A lot of the Walmart crew podcast was about this deep friendship that they've developed spending hours and hours just hanging out together.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WYATT: We grew a brothership there. There's a bond that can't be broken. If you mess with one, you mess with all.

SCOTT: Brothers for life.

DEMBY: We spoke to Lindsay Johnson, who teaches these students at Rowan County Senior High School. She said being from a small town, you're treated as if you're not good enough or, like, you eventually have to leave where you're from. The Walmart crew, she said, are hilarious, they're silly, but they're also complicated. And for them, this podcast is a way to reflect about this time in their lives when they don't have many responsibilities yet, a time that they know won't last forever.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "THE VRP BREAKDOWN")

J T: Although we in juvenile detention, we still good kids, and, you know, we just made a mistake.

MERAJI: Next up, students from Milwaukee at the Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center School who are in a program called MCAP.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "THE VRP BREAKDOWN")

J T: MCAP stands for Milwaukee County Accountability Program. My name is J.T. (ph). I'm 15 years old.

J C: My name's J.C. (ph). I'm 16 years old.

JOE: My name is Joe (ph). I was born on September 19. I'm 16 years old

MERAJI: And they call their podcast "The VRP Breakdown."

DEMBY: And all of their stories started when they were really young - like, younger than they are now - and when they were really impressionable.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "THE VRP BREAKDOWN")

J T: Well, when I was 13, that's when I first learned, you know, about, like, stealing cars. That's when I first learned how to hustle. My guy - he just taught me about the streets and just showed me all the easy money that's really out here. I mean, well, he, like, probably 30. If a grown man show you - if a grown man that you look up to - if a grown man show you how to get some money, you going to want to follow him. He taught me how to hustle, and by hustle, I mean, not selling dope or whatever. It wasn't really nothing. I probably could've been making more than that at a job. But, I mean, me being 13, that's a pair of shoes a week.

J C: You know, like you said, you young. Like my guy said, I start off at 13 - young age, seeing people with money, seeing people riding in cars, seeing people that, you know, like, are what you think famous, you know. Like, you want to be like them. You want to have clout, you know. You want to have fame. You want to have - all ages, you just want a name really, so...

J T: Doing it over and over, it become like a part of your life. Like, this what you used to. I always had good grades. I was accepted into Golda Meir High School. That's one of the top ones in Milwaukee.

J C: Mmm hmm.

J T: Well, I mean, the streets was just calling me, and I lost opportunities from it.

MERAJI: J.T., J.C. and Joe had a message they wanted to leave listeners with, especially kids who might be listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "THE VRP BREAKDOWN")

J T: Whenever I get out here, or if a young person listening to this right now, try to take our mistakes and our stories and just try to use them, you know, because we're not the only ones that go through. this. It's another 13-year-old, 14-year-old, 12, 11, 10 - it's another kid out there right now that is going through the same stuff that we've been through and that's going to end up in the same shoes that we in. Somebody's going to fill these MCAP shoes eventually. It's sad to say. We try to just take our stories and run with them. Like, I don't want to be an MCAP, you know.

JOE: Thanks for listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: All right, y'all. That's our show. Please follow us on Twitter. We're @NPRCodeSwitch. We want to hear from you. Our email is codeswitch@npr.org. Send us your burning questions with the subject line Ask Code Switch. And sign up for our newsletter at npr.org/newsletter/code-switch, and subscribe to the podcast on NPR One or wherever you get your podcasts.

MERAJI: This episode was produced and edited by Leah Donnella and Steve Drummond, with special help from Clare Lombardo of the NPR Ed Team.

DEMBY: And shout out to the rest of the Code Switch fam - Karen Grigsby Bates, Adrian Florido, Kat Chow, Kumari Devarajan, Maria Paz Gutierrez, Sami Yenigun and LA Johnson.

MERAJI: And a special shout out to our interns, Jess Kong (ph) and Mike Paulino (ph).

DEMBY: I'm Gene Demby.

MERAJI: And I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji.

DEMBY: Period.

MERAJI: (Laughter) Period.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MADISON: Thank you so much for staying tuned. Remember that when you go out into the world, try to be kind to everybody, no matter what color they are and no what they look like.

ANGELICA: It can change everything and help the world become a better place because, who knows? Maybe in the future, the world will turn out better.

Copyright © 2019 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.