The True North podcast started as a possible assignment for Westerville North High School’s African American history and literature courses.
Students would take what they are reading or discussing in class and explain what it means to them, their peers and their community. They would be responsible for creating the structure of the podcast and mapping out what they’d want to say.
Catherine Stathulis, who teaches “African American Literature and Composition,” proposed the idea after learning about NPR’s Student Podcast Challenge. John Sands, who teaches “African American History Since 1895” and collaborates with Stathulis, was immediately on board.
A podcast would capture their students’ voices and their stories while showcasing what they've learned from their readings, class discussions and projects.
"When we ask them to do traditional school work like an essay, it’s a struggle — both to get them to engage it and to get them to do well and show what we know they know," he said. "So how do we bridge that gap?"
Unlike an essay or personal narrative, a podcast offers a dynamic way for students to interact and engage with each other that shows their higher-level thinking, how they make connections and conceive ideas, Sands said.
The interaction between students is more authentic to what they will encounter outside the classroom, Stathulis said.
“We love writing, but the discussion is enabling us to prepare kids for what they are going to really experience,” she said. “One person speaks and they build on that — that means they truly were listening to what that person was saying.”
For the past two weeks, students in both cohorts have created segments for the True North podcast — one on why stories matter and the other on history and what the election of Kamala Harris as vice president means in the context of African American studies. (You can listen to the podcast here.)
The students who focused on the topic why stories matter weaved in assimilationist, segregationist and anti-racist themes from their reading of "Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism and You" by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi. Many of the students, who are African immigrants or first-generation African immigrants, shared their personal stories.
"Their lived experiences are not ar away from the things we’re reading about," Sands said.
Students said they loved the assignment, learning about the others in the class and their opinions on topics that meant so much to them.
For senior Candice Talmadge, creating a podcast about what it meant to see Kamala Harris elected and its impact on her and future generations was a unifying experience. She said everyone felt comfortable being honest with each other without fear of judgment.
“We weren’t talking about things happening around us,” she said. “We were talking about things happening within us.”
Stathulis and Sands plan to continue the podcast through the rest of the year and have already identified the topic for an episode they'd like both cohort groups to tackle: Black identity.
“It shows how learning doesn’t have to be assessed in one way,” Stathulis said. “The complexity of their discussion showed true depth in their knowledge. For me, it was mind-blowing.”