San Antonio High School teacher Jessica Ly stood across from her Associated Student Body (ASB) students, facilitating the first conversation about a student-led podcast series the school is working to launch in the spring.
How do you put a high school podcast together while creating a safe space for her more shy and nervous students, asked the five-year teacher from Rosemead, while at the same time making sure students stay engaged and committed to the process to see the project through?
There was a much needed “mic drop moment” that set the tone early in the inaugural meeting: one student expressed a contagious excitement, lifting the entire group’s energy when she mentioned the podcast was an opportunity for her and her peers to freely express themselves.
From that moment on, Ms. Ly noted, the conversation moved along fluidly and collaboratively.
The brainstorming session put forward podcast ideas from sharing their life experiences, the awkward lunch and hallway conversations between classmates, information sessions to help transition students from high school to adulthood, and programs that deeply examine the schools rich diversity and experiences.
“We made sure everyone felt comfortable,” said Ny’Kayla Crews, the soft-spoken 11th grader who is completing high school while taking after-school nursing classes. “We let everyone add their own topics because when you’re passionate about something, it’s easy to not talk about it, because you’re worried about being judged. What worked in our podcast meeting was that our teacher didn’t mislead anyone, she let us talk about what we wanted to talk about, which felt safe for all of us.”
Teenagers want to be seen, heard and taken seriously. The idea behind the podcast is to bring students together with different curiosities—music, writing, engineering, art, caretaking—while honing their talents to make a timely program that resonates with their peers.
Since 2013, San Antonio Principal Sean Delgado has worked tirelessly with his faculty and administrators to break down the stigma associated with continuation schools and their students who come from a myriad of economic backgrounds: wealthy households, moving through the foster care system, living on Claremont hotel vouchers, and working night jobs to keep their families off the street.
“Students want a sense of belonging. At a smaller school like ours, we have the ability to really understand a student’s background and where their journey started, and where they are in their life today,” said Mr. Delgado, whose first major action as a principal was working with students to identify a school mascot, something San Antonio High School didn’t have until his arrival. “You get to bring together students who are from all walks of life, sitting at the same table, talking about their interests with peers that at a larger school, may have never hung out.”
Early in his tenure, Mr. Delgado made it a point to become less rigid than his days as principal of Chino Hills High School.
“When I came here, I realized, I was glad these students were here,” he said. He discovered through his pedagogical work the more you learn about a student’s personal history, the better you can connect with who they are, in and out of the classroom.
“I think a lot of us wanted to be more active with the school. I make music. That’s the perspective I bring to all of this,” said Lavon Sylvers, who shared that while bringing his musical talents to the podcast is a good fit for him, he’s also excited to learn from others. “I love philosophy and other perspectives, and just listening to other people, hearing them talk, and connecting with them is going to come from all of this.”
Initial funding for the podcast is coming from the Claremont Classroom Grant. These “mini-grants” are given in $250 increments to help teachers develop specialized projects to elevate student engagement and learning.
San Antonio teachers Melissa Gaw, Tyler Baugh, Kathi Rollman and Ms. Ly, who will be spearheading the project this spring, secured $1,000 in funding to jumpstart the program. The pitch in the grant proposal is to use the podcast to move students away from click-bait content and rote memorization, into using story-telling as a vehicle for students to develop problem-solving and project management skills.
The grant money is expected to cover equipment costs, which includes microphones, a portable recorder, and recording and streaming software.
The grant is sponsored by the Claremont Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Claremont Sunrise Rotary Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club of Claremont and the University Club.
‘We are diverse, but instead of focusing on what our differences are, this podcast can bring us together to examine why a person likes what they like,” said Aurora García-Colin, an 11th grader who wants to use the podcast as an opportunity to teach fellow students about how a person’s biological roots can affect behavior.
“People sometimes confuse how you are raised with who you are biologically,” she said.
The first podcast is expected to air in March.