By Sarah Wang
Video may rule social media, but a new platform is on the rise: podcast. This is something Arcadia High School’s Podcast Team knows all too well, especially after winning recognition from the California Schools Public Relations Association (CalSPRA). But who exactly is behind the now award-winning podcast, “Keepin’ It Arcadia”?
The podcast team is made up of a group of passionate interns who are part of the Arcadia Unified Digital Communications Internship (DCI), led by junior Jeffrey Lee. Lee, who was one of the original podcast team members, now leads a team of 12 high-schoolers, ranging from freshmen to seniors, all of whom were very much taken by surprise when AHS principal, Dr. Brent Forsee, walked in to help present the award. After overcoming his initial shock, Lee gave a brief but heartfelt speech, emphasizing his genuine gratitude that his “team’s hard work was recognized,” calling it “one of the happiest days of my life.”
Though the podcast team may be making its way to success now, things weren’t always so easy. “One of our biggest difficulties was getting the whole operation off the ground,” recalled Lee, “when we first started, the team had little experience in podcasts and had to do a lot of research to put everything together, piece by piece.” Lee explains that he himself volunteered to manage the podcast out of a passion for talking and learning about unique things rather than a particular aptitude for podcasting, and got “hooked to the rewarding experience of podcasting” only after releasing his first episode.
The podcast team actually first came together after the Arcadia Unified (AUSD) Chief Communication Officer and DCI adviser Ryan Foran started his own PR podcasts and discovered the rapidly growing popularity of podcasts. Originally, the podcast was going to be run by Amber Nuuvali, the public information specialist, and himself, but they “wanted more student voice and input” in the district’s social media presence to make it truly “by the students, for the students.” And truly, the students run the podcast almost completely independently, with little supervision from their advisers. When asked whether there was any hesitation to give the students such control and flexibility, Foran responded, “The students in DCI have earned our trust to make their own decisions; Jeffrey, our podcast manager, will occasionally come to us for advice and guidance, which we’re more than happy to provide, but other than that it really is all student-run.” Their approach to leading students may be unconventional, as “many districts would never in a million years give students access to their social media,” but Foran and Nuuvali have an “enormous amount of respect” for their student storytellers.
Indeed, their strategy has proven to work, as AUSD and DCI has been recognized for its outstanding work for the second time in three years, the first being a CalSPRA Award of Excellence for a “Chromebook Care” PSA produced by the interns two years ago. “It’s truly a team effort,” explained Foran, “even with the podcast, the rest of the interns who aren’t on the team are pitching story ideas and designing cover graphic and we are so thrilled and proud of our students for earning this well-deserved award.”
Despite its achievements, the team was initially unsure of how receptive its audience would be to a new platform like podcasting. After all, it’s often speculated that Generation Z, which includes AHS’s current cohort, heavily prefers receiving news via social media or video. Thankfully, most students “seem to genuinely enjoy the podcast,” Lee notes, “I think especially today with young people having shorter attention spans and loving to multitask, podcasts provide an intellectually satisfying experience without needing to take all your attention off of doing other tasks, such as some repetitive math problems or washing the dishes.”
As the team continues to expand, there are even more goals to reach. “In addition to our weekly podcasts that focus on recent, current, and upcoming events in Arcadia, we’d love to also throw in a monthly, long term project that yields a longer podcast that focuses on a single topic with multiple interviews, sort of like a podcast documentary,” mused Lee. The team also hopes to invest in more advanced podcasting equipment to reduce background noise and enhance the overall listening experience for its audience.