The school’s Voice of the Student podcast is the brainchild of Year 2 and Aboriginal Education teacher Andrew Hurrell after staff at the school sought ways to communicate more effectively with its parent community, which is often too busy or not inspired to read the regular newsletter.
“We knew we needed the students to be involved to capture the interest of the parents,” says school principal Helen Whale. “Our takeaway homework from a staff meeting was to produce an innovative way to engage parents. Mr Hurrell came back with the idea of a student-driven podcast. That dream for Mr Hurrell became a mission for me.”
Mrs Whale quicky acknowledged the endless possibilities and went online for a quick tutorial on making a podcast. Mr Hurrell then introduced the idea to the Year 5/6 class from which a group of volunteers gathered ideas for their pilot podcast. A team of students interviewed children from different classes for the content and it was published on 30 June.
Mr Hurrell had a major hand in shaping the script for the pilot. The students were excited when it went to air and were keen to get to work on the second podcast. Mr Hurrell handed more of the background work over to his two apprentices – Henri in Year 6 and his sidekick Olive in Year 5. This was succession planning 101 at its best.
“The teachers asked for a grandparents theme for our second episode,” Mrs Whale says. “Children from every class were given a voice in this podcast. The Year 5/6 students by now were becoming more skilled at script writing and recording. Mr Hurrell was gradually releasing the reins. The students provide a greater degree of independent production in the third podcast, which is due to be released Friday 4 September.”
ABC Upper Hunter radio producer Hannah Palmer saw the podcasts on St Joseph’s Facebook page and was immediately enthralled. She rang the school and congratulated it on being innovative and praised the quality of the podcasts. Ms Palmer visited the school to interview some of the podcast characters for a story that was aired on local and Newcastle radios on Wednesday 19 August. This was immediately taken on by Newcastle radio as well. The school hopes it will also be played on ABC's Australia Wide.
During Ms Palmer's visit to the school she discussed with the students the challenges of making a recording and provided hints about setting-up the classroom studio for the least interruptions and incidental noise. She showed the students a cheap and highly effective tool to use to improve the quality when recording on mobile phones. This is called a “dead cat” and is a sock-like sleeve that goes over the phone and muffles any sharp, screeching sounds.
“The podcast meets many of our school's needs,” says Mrs Whale. “It is an innovative way of connecting with all members of our school community. It gives the students a voice – an opportunity to communicate about things that are of interest and importance to them. The podcast provides an authentic audience to whom the students can direct their stories. It also enables the students to develop skills in information technology for an authentic purpose.”
The students are currently working on a promotional podcast where they will highlight why they would recommend St Joseph's as a school of choice. They have already started to think about a wellbeing focus and a sports carnival commentary.
“Their minds are ticking,” says Mrs Whale. “The podcasts can be listened to in the car on the way to school. It engages parents, grandparents and students in a more contemporary mode of content delivery. Teachers are seeing the value and the potential for reaching a broader audience than we capture at present.”
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