Students submit 11 podcasts to NPR Student Podcast Challenge

Todd McKeehan's mother expresses gratitude for the podcast.
Posted On: Thursday, April 18, 2019

Students have far exceeded expectations in a recent assignment to create a podcast that tells a community story. The podcasts were recently submitted to the National Public Radio (NPR) Student Podcast Challenge, and they count for a grade in the Integrated English III and US History classes at Elizabethton High School. Winning submissions will air on NPR’s Morning Edition or All Things Considered and will be announced this month.

To prepare, students researched topics covering local history and standout individuals in our community. Experts joined students in the classroom to help them develop professional and communication skills, such as how to ask quality questions, make eye contact, shake hands, and follow up after an interview.

Over the course of the project, students contacted over 50 possible interviewees to help them learn more about their chosen subject matter. The students then scheduled and conducted those interviews, recording each one. Interviewees included Erwin mayor Doris Hensley, Carter County Mayor’s Executive Assistant Abby Frye, Elizabethton Archivist Joe Penza, Freelance Writer Ann Yungmeyer, Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency Communications Manager Haley White, and Johnson City Press Reporter Hannah Swayze, among many others.

One group told  the story of EHS alumnus Todd McKeehan, who was one of two Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agents that died during the raid at the Davidian Compound outside of Waco, Tx. His story inspired junior Seanna Bailey after she learned about his life and death at a student-organized memorial service last year.

“He walked through the same hallways I did and wanted to grow up and be a productive human being. We all share the same goals to grow up and do something good with our lives, and I think that’s why he touched me.”

Though the project required extensive planning and documentation from topic selection to coordinating and conducting interviews, and though they have hours of interview to edit and parse together, students are excited to share these local stories and hopeful they will inspire others.

“I think it seems daunting to be telling someone else’s story, but it’s very fulfilling,” said student Colby Dugger. His group is telling retired principal Dr. Josh Wandell’s story of his experience with ALS.

“I definitely feel more driven working on this,” he continued. “If it was just a research paper, I would think, ‘I can put this off tomorrow,’ but this has actual meaning in the present, so you feel a certain urgency to it. You want to take the time to do it and do it well.”

This project is one example of the ways History and English can intertwine. The classes are designed to work together, while still covering their own state standards, and students must still demonstrate mastery on state tests. But students say learning the material like this makes a nice balance.

“The classes are very cohesive,” Dugger said.

Those interested in partnering with students on similar (or different) projects in the future should contact Maggie Donnellan, Community Partners Coordinators for EHS, at


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