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Listen up! Here are the finalists of the 2022 Student Podcast Challenge

LA Johnson

Is it possible to love a stranger? Why do dancers have to wear leotards? How can you track the endangered Preble's meadow jumping mouse when it's difficult to track them with a collar because of their tiny necks?! Kids have the unique ability to ask questions that adults might not think too much about.

These questions provide insight into the minds of young people. This year, we received over 2,400 entries from 45 states and the District of Columbia, and the creativity, innovation, and emotion students were able to pack into eight minutes impressed us.

We loved listening to every minute. NPR has spent weeks listening to, agonizing over and judging the entries. Today, we're announcing our 15 high school and 10 middle school finalists! Our judges will select two grand prize winners from this list.

In our fourth year of the Student Podcast Challenge, students are reflecting on the opportunities and evils of the internet, asking questions about their hometowns and taking a look at the kid in the mirror.

Students are asking big questions about the world wide web

How can the web harm us? Where is the good in the internet? How can it help?

From relative obscurity to having a Chipotle bowl made in your name, high schoolers Justin Alexander and Ben Kirsch in Scarsdale, N.Y. look at how TikTok has revolutionized the music industry. They cite the app's ability to catapult "quintessential starving artist" types like Tai Verdes to stardom in Unprecedented and Unavoidable: Tik Tok's effect on Music Industry.

But students are exploring the darker sides of the web, too. In One Click Away: How Online Extremism is Hidden in Plain Sight, Sophia Shin, Matthew Suescan and Emily Zhang from Hackensack, N.J. create a fake Facebook profile of a middle aged woman who had "right leaning tendencies" to see what the platform's algorithm would serve up.

You can find inspiration in your own backyard

From exploring Amarillo, Texas' coffee culture to asking why the previously bustling small town of Wiggins, Miss. only has two businesses left standing, there's no place like home (to create a podcast).

When Carmel, Calif. high schooler Owen Shirrell's great uncle received a draft notice during the Vietnam War, he got creative – with hypnosis – to excuse him from his assignment overseas. Take a listen to How A 1950 Lincoln Continental Saved My Uncle From Vietnam to hear the rest.

In Changes in Our Backyard: Gentrification in DC, high school students Arjun Nair, Alis Chang, Ishani Biswas, and Sarah Hailu visit local businesses and ask residents about gentrification. One interviewee says gentrification is, "to push out the people who are already there — and can barely afford to live there – and come in with condos and upscale housing."

Young people are narrating their own stories

Students are turning the mic on themselves in a big way – this year, 8 of our 25 finalist podcasts deal with questions of identity. One offers insight into how the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons allows some students to explore their LGBTQ identity while another emphasizes the importance of inclusive dance for people with disabilities.

Christina Zhang from Biloxi, Miss. details the comfort she finds in her small Chinese-American church. As Zhang describes in Having the Grace to Find a Sense of Place, Chinese Grace Bible Church is one of the few places she feels represented.

"The people sitting in the pews, which are actually just office chairs," Zhang says, "are Chinese-Americans who find comfort in knowing ... they can feel a perfect balance of ebullience and fortune without the fear of prejudice or exclusion."

In the Holden Immigrant Experience, Su Hay Thi Lin, Erika Flores, Trefena Sumoket describe the challenges faced by those who make their way to the United States.

"When I see immigrant students in my classroom, it reminds me of the struggles that my father went through," explains the students' teacher. "It took him five years to graduate high school because he didn't have any [English language learner] support."

Congratulations to all our finalists!

2022 Student Podcast Challenge: The Finalists

Content warning: some podcasts include topics that may be sensitive for some listeners/readers, such as school violence and sexual harassment.

High School Finalists

Love and Hate - Mendocino, CA

By: Arete Gagnon, Geneveve Schaner

Submitted by: Marshall Brown, Mendocino High School

Today, most people would say our world revolves around hate, but is that really the case? To better understand the human relationship with love and hate, Mendocino High School students Arete Gagnon and Geneveve Schaner ask members of the public.

Tea, Toast and Truth: Connecting Through Climate Change - Ashland, OR

By: Anya Moore, Mira Saturen, Kena Robertshaw, Amelia Wilkinson, Ella Gibbs, Tate Oliva

Submitted by: Shane Abrams, Ashland High School

The climate crisis impacts us all. But for teenagers, the ones who are going to have to live with the consequences, facing the future can feel daunting. From fear to anger, bewilderment to hope, a group of Ashland High School students sought to capture teenagers' responses to climate change in an effort to make all the young people out in the world experiencing similar emotions feel a little less alone.

More Players at the Table - Silver Spring, MD

By: Maggie Crow, Marie Spirtas

Submitted by: Sarah Forman, Montgomery Blair High School

More Players at the Table shines new light on how the tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons, can be an accepting space for queer people. With the use of personal testimony from many Queer D&D players, high schoolers Maggie Crow and Marie Spirtas explore the freedom and self-expression found within the game.

How A 1950 Lincoln Continental Saved My Uncle From Vietnam - Carmel, CA

By: Owen Shirrell

Submitted by: Barbara McBride, Carmel High School

Faced with the impending threat of an induction notice in the spring of 1969, Owen Shirrell's great-uncle and grandfather demonstrated that necessity truly is the mother of invention. This podcast details how the brothers used hypnosis in order to avoid being drafted for the Vietnam War with only, ehm, minor consequences.

Nervous Laughter - Rockville, MD

By: Teagan Hyun-Suk Nam

Submitted by: Jonathan Brammer, Northwood High School

After an attempted school shooting, students have a strange response: humor. Nervous Laughter analyzes why not just high schoolers, but people everywhere, can bring themselves to laugh in the darkest of times.

Having the Grace to Find a Sense of Place - Columbus, MS

By: Christina Zhang, Sawyer Levenson

Submitted by: Thomas Easterling, The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science

Annie Hsu, a 24-year old community leader, serves as an inspiration to many. Volunteering as a local Chinese church Sunday school leader at Grace Baptist Church, the lessons she teaches Asian-American youth in Mississippi reach far beyond bible verses.

IC And FP Sexual Harassment JHS - Jericho, NY

By: Farrah Park, Isla Chan

Submitted by: Suzanne Valenza, Jericho High School

Sexual harassment is an issue everywhere – including high school. Students Farrah Park and Isla Chan discuss instances where they were harassed and the negative long-term effects it had.

From Nowhere: Food & Farming in Korean America - Troy, NY

By: Sabrina Antrosio

Submitted by: Gemma Halfi, Emma Willard High School

How does food interact with identity? In her podcast, high schooler Sabrina Antrosio says "it isn't just something we mindlessly consume. What we eat can be used to identify – and identify with others." Antrosio interviews her mother, grandmother, and Korean-American farmers to explore how Asian-Americans have made space for themselves in America.

Changes in Our Backyard Gentrification in DC - Poolesville, MD

By: Arjun Nair, Alis Chang, Ishani Biswas, Sarah Hailu

Submitted by: Clayton Traver, Poolesville High School

In this entry, Poolesville High School students talk gentrification in Washington, D.C. They interview residents and local business owners about what gentrification really is and what it means to them. The high schoolers offer their own ideas on how the problem of gentrification can be mitigated.

Food Sharing with the Homeless - Teterboro, NJ

By: Queenie-Michelle Asare-Gyan, Justin Jang, Mia Palli

Submitted by: Erica Golle, Bergen County Technical Schools- Teterboro Campus

Bergen Tech seniors Queenie-Michelle Asare-Gyan, Justin Jang, and Mia Palli analyze Newark's proposed ordinance to require permits for distributing food to homeless individuals in public areas. Accompanied by bursts of energetic commentary, the students come to their own conclusions regarding the ordinance's implications.

How Family Can Hurt - Cicero, IL

By: Nayely Lopez

Submitted by: Jeremy Robinson, JS Morton East High School

"Gordita, flaco, chaparro, chaparra." All of these are comments Nayley Lopez has received or heard given from family members on her or others' bodies, and it hurts. Lopez uses her podcast to discuss the effects her family's comments have on mental health and offers guidance for those in similar situations.

Amarillo Coffee Culture - Amarillo, TX

By: Joe Mueller, Kloee Pratt-Castaneda, Jared Medina

Submitted by: Jenny Inzerillo, AmTech Career Academy

​​Three Amarillo high school students wanted to know: does their hometown have a "coffee culture?" And if so, what is it? They did the research, asked around and got answers about how a caffeinated beverage might have shaped this rural community.

Unprecedented and Unavoidable: Tik Tok's effect on Music Industry - Scarsdale, NY

By: Ben Kirsch, Justin Alexander

Submitted by: Molly Earle, Edgemont Jr./Sr. High School

TikTok has propelled many artists to global stardom. Without the app, singers and songwriters who, by now, have been nominated for Grammys, performed on Saturday Night Live and gotten signature Chipotle bowls might still be unknown. So has TikTok truly started a revolution in the music industry?

One Click Away: How Online Extremism is Hidden in Plain Sight - Hackensack, NJ

By: Sophia Shin, Matthew Suescan, Emily Zhang

Submitted by: Carly Berwick, Bergen County Academies

This podcast explores one of the most harmful phenomena to arise from our current technological age: online extremism. Students Sophia Shin, Matthew Suescun, and Emily Zhang share the procedure, results and analysis of their own investigation into the alt-right pipeline conducted on Facebook and TikTok. Their study reveals that anyone is susceptible to falling victim to this dangerous rabbit hole.

You Can Go Back Home Again - Columbus, MS

By: Raegan Calvert, Braedon Rothert

Submitted by: Thomas Easterling, The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science

Wiggins, Miss. used to be a town bustling with life. Its downtown area, Pine Hill Avenue, once had businesses lining its streets. But nowadays, there are only two businesses left standing. Calvert reports on why this happened and the debate residents have over Wiggins' next steps towards growth.

Middle School Finalists

No Cap - Medford, MA

By: Giancarlo Astuccio, Frank Barbosa, Christian Bernier, Christie Bonocoeur, Carducci Cherry, Paul DeMayo, Francis DiRienzo, Latrell Huggins, Yisel Romero, Gavin Lin, Carlos Loredo, Makayla Maccarone, Marcello McLaughlin, William Ogles, Amari Peoples, Wildji Simon, Gabriel Waple

Submitted by: Amelia Whalen, Andrews Middle School

Displeased with their school district's policy restricting students from wearing hats and hoods, a group of middle schoolers plan to challenge the rule at an upcoming school committee meeting. Over the course of this podcast, the students explore the history of this rule and lend insight on how they plan to challenge it.

Uncovering the Secrets of the Modeling Industry - New York City, NY

By: Matilda Fried Levenstein

Submitted by: Jessica Nelson, The Clinton School

The reality of the modeling industry might surprise you: rather than glamour, money and fame, it sometimes ends in debt, exploitation and harassment. Middle schooler Matilda Fried Levenstein interviews those who have seen behind the industry's magic curtain to discuss both their positive and negative experiences in the modeling world.

Endangered - Cloverleaf, CO

By: Pearl Leubner, Emily Quintana, Serenity Smith, Madeline Meraz, Rachel Barth, Allison Kenney, Danielle Kenney, Zoe Frank

Submitted by: Karen Penry, Cloverleaf Enrichment School

The black-tailed prairie dog, the Preble's meadow jumping mouse and the black-footed ferret are endangered. The students at the Cloverleaf Enrichment School share tips on how to protect our furry friends – like making sure not to let your cat out if you live near the jumping mice.

The Worlds We Create - Rockwall, TX

By: Blake Turley, Wesley Helmer, Kit Atteberry, Harrison McDonald

Submitted by: Misti Knight, Williams Middle School

Have you ever come across a "tea" account on social media? If not, this is the podcast for you. A group of students at Williams Middle School discuss the online world of school gossip and conduct a surprising experiment to show just how fast it can spread.

Monnishaa Tambe - Powell, OH

By: Monnishaa Tambe

Submitted by: Lesley Wolf, Olentangy Hyatts Middle School

Language is much more than just a means of communication; it's a powerful tool that connects people on an emotional level. Today, when many families are separated by physical distance, language can be the perfect unifier. This podcast highlights how one first generation immigrant couple used the Marathi language to bring generations together.

Holden Immigrant Experience - Chicago, IL

By: Su Hay Thi Lin, Trefena Sumoket, Erika Flores

Submitted by: Mark Stickler, Charles N. Holden Elementary School

Students Su Hay Thi Lin, Trefena Sumoket, Erika Flores are all from immigrant backgrounds and use their podcast to amplify the voices of immigrants around them. From language barriers to lack of learning support in schools, they receive feedback from fellow students, language coordinators and teachers to learn more about the challenges that newcomers to this country face.

Who Am I? 我说中文,但是我是美国人" (I speak Chinese, but I am an American) - Riverside, CT

By: Jeremy Liew

Submitted by: Tamara McKenna, Home-schooled

As an Asian-American, Jeremy Liew asks: "am I more Asian or American?" He considers the history behind what qualifies a person to be "American" in the eyes of the public. He considers modern-day examples, like why American-born Olympian Eileen Gu represented China in the Beijing Winter Olympics. Finally, he leaves the listeners with his own words of wisdom.

The Sweet Bomb: A Lasting Legacy - Cloverleaf, CO

By: Faith Prinzo, Savannah Prinzo, Steven Hubinger, Leza Hutcheson, Nielle Hecker, India Johnson, Keegan Dramer

Submitted by: Karen Penry, Cloverleaf Enrichment School

The late Col. Gail Halvorsen had an alias: the Candy Bomber. As an Air Force pilot in 1948, he dropped candy and chocolate from his plane to children in Soviet-occupied Berlin.

Students at the Cloverleaf Enrichment School interviewed him before his death in February this year. They also spoke to people who benefitted from his acts of kindness.

The Importance of Inclusive Dance for People with Disabilities - New York City, NY

By: Greta Baier

Submitted by: Jessica Nelson, The Clinton School

Greta Baier is a dancer who uses a wheelchair, trache and ventilator. She explains what dance can look like with a disability – and debunks common misconceptions of what dance can and should be.Through interviews with her fellow dance students and company directors, her podcast reminds listeners that everyone can dance.

Why Dancers Shouldn't Wear Leotards - Liberty Twp, OH

By: Ashlyn Frayer, Reagan Murray, Shahed Saleh

Submitted by: Kim Carlson, Woodland Elementary

Three dancers talk about the one thing they hate most about dancing: leotards! They're tight, uncomfortable and they often make dancers feel self-conscious about their bodies. Middle school podcasters Ashlyn Frayer, Reagan Murray and Shahed Saleh make a compelling case for why dancers should be able to wear more comfortable clothes.

Lauren Migaki contributed to this report.

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