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

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For the last few weeks, students all over the country have been doing what we do here at NPR - recording interviews, editing tape and reading their stories into a microphone - all part of the NPR student podcast challenge, which this year brought us more than 2,600 podcasts. Here is Sequoia Carrillo from NPR's education team with some of our finalists.

LUCILLE BORNAND: Hi. I'm Lucille, and I have an important question for you. What do you think of when you hear the word slug?

SEQUOIA CARRILLO, BYLINE: Well, what do you think of when you hear the word slug? This is just one of the many questions students set out to answer in this year's Student Podcast Challenge. Fifth grader Lucille Bornand from Richland Avenue Elementary in Los Angeles asked her friends for some help.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: What I think about slugs, I think a bit lazy, kind of gross, very slow because they are.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: I think of a blob of slime.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #3: Well, what usually comes to mind when someone usually says slug is sort of slimy and garden usually, because I usually find them in my garden.

CARILLO: Slugs, of course, weren't the only thing on the minds of young people. Seventh graders from an after school program in Holly Springs, Ga., went a little deeper and asked students the question, what do you wish your parents knew?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #4: I wish my parents knew.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #5: I wish my parents knew.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #6: I wish my parents knew.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #7: I wish my parents knew.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #8: There were a few really sweet answers, like these.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #9: That they're cool parents.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #10: How much I love them.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #11: That I do love them even if I don't say it.

CARILLO: They got a whole range of answers.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #12: And here are some of the funniest answers.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #13: How to switch from HDMI one to HDMI two.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #12: But most of the answers were like this.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #14: How stressful life is for me.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #15: Why I can't tell them everything.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #16: How upsetting it is whenever they get mad at me.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #17: That I'm not perfect.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #18: How much they impact me.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #19: That I want to be alone sometimes and that I'm not always OK.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #20: Just because we have a good relationship doesn't mean I need to tell them everything.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #21: That I know what I'm doing and that I'm not as immature as they think.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #22: That I know what's best for me.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #23: How much pressure I'm under.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #24: How hard I am trying.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #25: How hard I'm trying.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #24: How hard I'm trying.

CARILLO: We really saw a shift this year in students focusing narratives around their families, like Astrid and Zouri Johnson, sisters from Baltimore, Md. And like all sisters, there's some drama.

ASTRID JOHNSON: If you could change one thing about me, what would you change?

ZOURI JOHNSON: That you don't punch me.

A JOHNSON: Zouri, you can't say that.

Z JOHNSON: (Laughter).

A JOHNSON: I don't punch you.

CARILLO: But also a deep bond that they share with their family.

A JOHNSON: Hey, best friend.


A JOHNSON: What's something you think about daily?

Z JOHNSON: I think about how long I'm going to hug grandma when we get to see her again.

A JOHNSON: Oh, that's really sad.

CARILLO: All the way across the country - Bethel, Alaska, to be exact - three high school students did their podcast about a family activity that's really bonded them during quarantine, subsistence hunting.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #27: It was cold that morning. It was about 40 degrees, so we kind of had our gear on. It was cold enough to where you could see your breath every time you breathe, and the wind would nip at your face when you're driving on the boat. And we stopped, and there was a moose. And so me and my brother snuck - it was kind of an open meadow. So we snuck around, stopped in kind of the middle of the meadow where there was a pile of bushes, and there was a moose racking in the trees. And your heart's beating super fast. Time felt like it stopped. And I was just sitting there waiting, waiting, waiting.

CARILLO: The students talked about how the experience helped them get through the isolation of the pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #28: It's helped me a lot, especially due to the lack of sports. I've been able to get homework done and then go out and ptarmigan hunt for a couple of hours. It's really helped me get outside and also connect with my family members more and give me a chance to go out and be with them.

CARILLO: As in the past, some students took on investigative reporting projects or dove into local legends.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #29: It's January 15, 1903, 1 p.m. on a brisk day. A man walking home for lunch stops on the bustling corner of Main and Gervais Streets across from the South Carolina State House. He is shot in broad daylight.

CARILLO: Fourteen high school students from Heathwood Hall Episcopal School in Columbia, S.C., told the story of a famous murder in their hometown through interviews with the victim's great-nephew.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #29: Who shot him? The lieutenant governor from one of South Carolina's most prominent families. However, the man walking home for lunch was not just any man. He was the editor-in-chief and co-founder of the state newspaper. He died a martyr for free speech, but almost no one remembers. His name was Narciso Gener Gonzales.

CARILLO: Lots of our finalist stories had twists and turns this year, even when talking about their own backyard.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #30: On December 1 of 2020, a white van pulled into a small residential neighborhood in West Windsor, N.J. Over a dozen protesters holding signs and covering their faces poured out onto the sidewalk in front of one of the homes.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #31: They showed up every day from around 10:30 to 4 p.m., shouting obscenities in Chinese and proclaiming that the man inside the house was a spy working for the Chinese Communist Party.

CARILLO: The podcast "Shouts In The Quiet" is reported by two students in West Windsor, N.J. The month-long protests sparked counterprotests in the Tangs' (ph) neighborhood.

LYNN: And we have very good neighbor - very supportive to us, you know? So, yeah, I love here.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #30: That's Lynn (ph), Bale's (ph) wife. After just over five years of living in this town, she felt at home here. And so on December 1, when the first protesters rolled in, she was surprised.

LYNN: We didn't expect them. We didn't think they will come here. Yeah.

CARILLO: Some students reported on news, while some sort the stories behind the headlines, like a group of students at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, D.C.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Because I've lost enough family members and friends to gun violence and only just kind of harbored the trauma that I felt like, all right, this time, I got to do something different. You know, I also will walk down Florida Avenue on my way back home uptown, and I would cry some nights because I was afraid that I wouldn't make it to college because I'd be killed.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It affected my family in different ways because my older brother - I feel like if my dad was still alive, then he would not be doing the things that he's doing now. And for my younger brother, he doesn't really have much of a father figure, I want to say.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I have to question, like, how long am I going to live, especially if I return to that city? So, you know, the more young people that die, the less safe I feel.

CARILLO: Like all our finalists, these young journalists brought their own stories to us in their own unique voices. Congratulations to all our student podcasters. We'll be announcing our grand prize winners in the coming weeks. Sequoia Carrillo, NPR News.

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