What does it mean to persevere? What challenges have the people in our community faced? How do people overcome challenges in their lives? These are some of the questions that 5th graders Ella Malis, Emily Mauser, and Ehsan Serajuddin explored in their entry to the NPR Podcast Challenge.
NPR announced the winners on May 1, noting that they had received nearly 6,000 entries. 25,000 students from 1,580 schools representing all 50 states participated. From those entries, NPR judges chose just one winner in the middle school category (grades 5-8) and one winner in the high school category (grades 9-12).
Lowell’s team—coached by 5th grade teacher Brian Stark and Academic Technologist Sam Moser—earned an honorable mention for their entry. In the email to teachers, NPR said, “our judges recognized it as a standout among the submissions.” Although Lowell's team was one of the youngest in the competition, Sam notes, "The most powerful aspect of the students’ work on this project was that they drove every step in the process. From establishing a topic to gathering and following up on interviewees, the club members took initiative."
Director of Primary School Jason Novak said, “[The students] will never forget their time in preparing the work.” To Brian and Sam, Jason said, “Know that from where I sit, not only have you both won—you have created something more for these students than any competition will recognize.”
Interviewees featured in the Lowell podcast told stories of challenges they had faced. United States District Judge Tanya Chutkan revealed that she had once wanted to be a dancer, and parent Umar Serajuddin recounted his story of learning 3,500 English words in 50 days to prepare for the SATs so that he could come to study in America from Bangladesh. Head of School Debbie Gibbs talked about the challenges of leading a school and “figuring out what’s most important to do at any given time.” Benga, a recently naturalized US citizen from Nigeria, said, “perseverance…builds strength.”
Judges used these questions, and others, to evaluate submissions—“Does the podcast tell a compelling story or teach us something new and important?” and “Do we hear the unique voices of your class and community?” “Does it make us laugh or cry or leave us deep in thought—feel something?” Clearly, Lowell’s team accomplished these goals on their very first try. Where will they go from here? We can’t wait to find out.