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Listening to the high school finalists of NPR’s Student Podcast Challenge: NPR

NPR’s Student Podcast Challenge received more than 3,300 entries in its fifth year. We bring you some of the finalists in our high school category from students from across the country.


Today we would like to introduce you to a young lady named Sara Roshan.


SARA ROSHAN: Hi, my name is Sara.

KELLY: Sara is a student at West Adams Preparatory High School in Los Angeles. She is originally from Herat Province, Afghanistan.


SARA: I had a long journey that changed my life forever, and that was my trip to the United States


That trip is the topic of a podcast he created. She talks about her family’s decision to leave Afghanistan and the central role that education played in that decision.


SARA: My mother didn’t want me to have the same fate as hers, where she was the same age as me but banned from school, so she left her parents.

SUMMER: Sara talks about the millions of girls and young women who have been denied an education in her home country. She knows that while she is gone, many remain.


SARA: I hear it often, when people say, you’re lucky you came here, or I’m glad you got out of there. Well thank you, but I wasn’t too happy at first – that feeling of coping guilt as I watched others being left behind. Obviously I can’t make big changes, but I can study more for myself, for my friends and for all the people in my country.

KELLY: Yours is one of more than 3,300 entries our education team received this year in NPR’s 5th Annual Student Podcast Challenge. Sara’s was one of 13 chosen by our judges as high school finalists.

SUMMER: And as always, we received a broad mix of podcasts from diverse backgrounds, places, and experiences — from heartwarming personal stories like Sara’s to deeply reported projects, like a voice from Maryland students exploring the fentanyl crisis that hit their school system.


UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #1: For reference, fentanyl is 50 times deadlier than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #2: It’s a big problem in schools, and there have been overdoses very close to us – at some of the nearby high schools.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT #3: People are actively dying. Someone is overdosing right now.

SUMMER: Three students at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md., interviewed local experts and their school’s educators about the disturbing rise in overdoses in recent years.

KELLY: Well, we got a lot of podcasts about gaming and sports this year. The judges singled this out as a finalist.


AYAH AL-MASYABI: I am in the kitchen cleaning the dishes after school. As I clean the dishes in my hand, one of my many favorite football podcasts is blaring. Like most American soccer fans, I watch, listen and learn from these experts. But at times, their comments about soccer in America can seem a little off, which begs the question: Has soccer in America changed over the generations? If so, why? And what will the future of American soccer look like?

KELLY: This is 16-year-old Ayah Al-Masyabi, a high school student from Branson, Colorado, confidently setting out to answer that question. Along the way, she weaves in the story of how, when she was younger, an older boy taught her the fundamentals of the game.


AYAH: From the moment that boy taught me how to play, soccer has been my life – through many miserable 90 minutes and overwhelming moments of joy, but most of all, memories with those I love.

SUMMER: And sadly, we’ve gotten quite a few student podcasts about gun violence and mass shootings this year, including this one from Natalie Martinez, a student in Chicago’s After School Matters program who survived one such incident at a local mall.


NATALIE MARTINEZ: It was March 26, 2022, when I heard six shots and ran to the back of the store. Suddenly, I felt terrified, horrified and petrified. As I sat and cried, I called my family and friends, telling them I will miss them and love them to the moon and back, because I thought I was going to die.

SUMMER: Natalie interviewed a Chicago police officer for advice on what students should do in such a situation.


UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: No. 1 is to always be aware of your surroundings and any dangers that may be around you. Number 2 is…

KELLY: As always, many of our student podcasters have been exploring their own identities, their places in the world. Two of this year’s high school finalists are by and about transgender students. Dylan McDonald is a student at Marblehead High School in Marblehead, Mass.


DYLAN MCDONALD: Hi. My name is Dylan and I am a transgender teenager.

SUMMERS: For his reporting, Dylan interviewed his mother. He says she was the person by my side. And his podcast ends with this message.


DYLAN: Guys like me are why we have to fight these anti-trans laws. No one should be deprived of their health care and bodily autonomy. Again, I think my mom says it best.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Being the mom of a transgender child is the same thing you’re fighting for your child, right? So as a mama bear, like any mama bear, you’re going to make sure your child gets whatever he can have out there that’s an option for him that might make him content and happy and feel like himself.

KELLY: That’s Dylan McDonald and his mom. He is a high school finalist in NPR’s Student Podcast Challenge. On Morning Edition, we will announce our grand prize winner in middle school grades. And tomorrow, on this show, we’ll have the high school grand prize winner.


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