In a podcast for her journalism class at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School last spring, student Pam Stravitz talked about how her car always seemed to need repair.
“The heater … makes terrifying whirring sounds,” she said. “I have a large piece of duct tape covering the back right window. Sometimes when it comes loose, I hear it flapping as I drive on Man o’ War Boulevard.”
The podcast was part of a 2014-15 series that this month won a national award for Dunbar students. The series included podcasts about student driving errors, fender benders and ultimately the effects fatal student traffic accidents have had on Dunbar over the years.
“I’m hoping to add weight to the license in your wallet and remind you of the value of life,” Stravitz told students in one podcast.
The Scholastic Press Association, in conjunction with the Journalism Education Association, awarded the series first place for Multimedia Feature Story of the Year, said Wendy Turner, a Dunbar teacher and journalism adviser.
Turner said high school journalism programs don’t always include podcasts, but “any time a kid on staff wants to do something new or try something outside the box, I fully support it, and we try to make it happen.”
A podcast is a digital audio file made available on the Internet.
A podcast is a digital audio file made available on the Internet. At Dunbar, the podcast is called Torch and is part of its Lamplighter Media Productions, which includes print and online news, and radio and broadcasting teams.
In mid-November, Turner’s students began another podcast series about student mental health, a significant issue in the district, Fayette County Public Schools officials say.
In the new series, students generally won’t be identified in the podcasts when they talk about their anxiety or other mental health diagnoses.
Said editor Brooke Bledsoe, one of the students working on the current podcast, “It’s important to let teens know that they are not alone, and they can talk to anybody that they trust. I just want to let them know that there are people out there going through the same situation.”
In the first new episode, student Keaton Allen interviewed Dunbar school psychologist Mackenzie Leachman.
Leachman said the mental health podcast was “a wonderful initiative.”
In Fayette County and elsewhere in Kentucky, she said, “there are several projects going on right now to raise awareness for youth mental health needs.”
Since the first podcast aired this month, more students have come to her office than in the past, Leachman said, and she attributed that in part to the podcasts.
The more we listen to each other’s stories, the more we are connected.
Wendy Turner, Dunbar teacher and journalism adviser
Stravitz, now a freshman at Northeastern University in Boston majoring in electrical engineering, said Alan Lytle, news director at the University of Kentucky’s WUKY-91.3 FM, helped with the podcast series.
She said she embraced podcasts for the teen driving series because they “could deliver the information in a way that was interesting and that could relate to students.”
Her podcast profiled Dunbar students who had died in traffic accidents, including Jesse Higginbotham in 2007.
Jesse, who is memorialized at a garden at Dunbar, was always ahead of the technology curve, Stravitz told listeners.
Jesse used Twitter in 2007, before many other people had discovered it. Stravitz noted that the BBC reported that one of his tweets was the first ever to be retweeted.
Turner said Dunbar’s podcasts were “about telling stories.”
“The more we listen to each other’s stories, the more we are connected,” she said.