Three Oak Bay High English classes tell four stories spanning generations, genders and socio-economic demographics in a series of local youth-produced podcasts.
“I think the students are understanding this is a fun project,” said Lisa Green, the Oak Bay High teacher who introduced the concept to her classes this year. “The whole idea is they would connect to community through what they’re doing.”
The students discussed ideas and voted, whittling it down to three topics.
Through the Years (senior to senior student connection), Stories from the Street and This Teen Life. A fourth spurred naturally, documenting the process.
“It’s five students who are really keen on doing documentaries when they graduate,” Green said.
“This is the first time I’ve run anything this large. This project is a yearlong project with the classes. Hopefully each series will have multiple episodes … it’s an entire class project.”
Each student was tasked with applying for a position, said Kalia Zickmantel. “We wrote up a short thing about the job we chose and why we were qualified.” Kalia wound up on the team that does creative design and marketing for Through the Years. In that project high school seniors meet, connect and interview seniors in the community.
“I think that way she knew what people were actually serious about,” said Marissa Wheeler, among those documenting the podcast project. “Then people would be in a role they were interested in … it helps make sure that everyone’s working to their hardest.”
Once assigned to a project, students stepped up in amazing ways, seeing the value of something that isn’t just about marks.
“They will be graded on this project but at the same time it’s much bigger than that,” Green said.
Students who don’t seem as motivated in other classwork are finding success and taking ownership of their individual projects and jobs.
“We’re all really passionate about it and we all want to make a good product. Learning to work as a team and use everyone’s skills in a way that’s most beneficial to us is something we’ve definitely been learning how to do,” said Hannah Roberts, a producer with This Teen Life. “This gives me an opportunity to explore that and see if I enjoy it.”
This Teen Life delves into the opinions and feelings of youth on a broad range of topics.
“The idea is to get a group of teens together to discuss issues that are going on in the world,” said Sophie Sacilotto, who works in marketing for that podcast. “We’re looking at several topics including sexual harassment, LGBTQ issues, cell phones, drug abuse, different things that affect teens, that teens see a lot more of than people would think.”
The mediated conversations offer youth a platform to express points of view. They decided early on to do a table talk, said Hannah Roberts, a producer with This Teen Life. “Another big one … is going to be drug usage and the use of prescription medication in high school.”
“We have people from every demographic,” Hannah said. “People can actually tell us their true opinion without worrying about criticism and critique from their peers.”
The goal is to reopen dialogue, with a teen moderator and teen panel showcasing a variety of people who are involved in Oak Bay in different ways.
“The students will be selected to give a variety of points of view and have different people from different areas of the school,” Sophie said. “The main theme of the podcast is just the importance of the teen voice. Teens aren’t always thought of as having this knowledge base and being involved in these big issues that are being discussed throughout the country and throughout the world.”
While that team gathered teens, Marissa watched, listened and documented the process.
“I’ve been doing a lot of interviews… trying to capture what each story is about and what each class is doing to make their project succeed,” said Marissa.
“We have to figure out how we’re going to put it in a good sequence and make sure it has a nice flow and it’s describing the project but it’s also interesting for the people watching it,” Marissa said. “It’s just nice to be involved in a project that shows that young people can do something like this, and that we’re capable of it.
It’s a similar process for Jack Lanine, on the Stories from the Street, talking to volunteers and members of the homeless population to get their stories.
“We’ve interviewed a lot of people, a lot of volunteers. People who work with the homeless, or who are homeless do have a lot to say. They have experienced the flaws of where we live and they do have very strong opinions,” Jack said.
He spent memorable days touring with Al Tysic, known for his work in the homeless population of Victoria.
“He’s an amazing guy. He’s in his 70s and gets up at 5 a.m., drives around downtown and gives out food and blankets and stuff,” Jack said. “If a body is found and it’s not claimed he will become the legal family and conduct a ceremony for them. He’s been doing that more often and more often because of the fentanyl crisis.”
The Victoria project leaves him slightly vexed.
“It’s not hard to help. It isn’t something that’s just part of society,” Jack said. “Even just talking to the homeless people is a huge help with them. It means the world to a lot of them. It’s not something that should just always be a thing. It’s just not something I think is acceptable in a country that is so beloved.”
With episodes expected online imminently, Green sees the value of shifting a curriculum and broadening the scope, while still hitting the classics.
“I had the goal of the class connecting community through story, putting it in a podcast and putting it up on iTunes so the ownership was beyond the classroom and to the world. It morphed in the most amazing way.”
The podcasts are available on iTunes, Google Play, and Pocket Casts and links to Anchor through their website obhpodcastproject.com.