BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A senior English project turned into something a bit more for four Fort Madison High School students.
Sara Ljungkull’s English 4 second trimester class was charged with creating a podcast as their final project, and one of those project was submitted and selected by National Public Radio as one of the top high school podcasts in the country.
National Public Radio received more than 2,300 podcast submissions from more than 10,000 students representing all 48 states and Washington D.C.
The submission that was sent to NPR from Fort Madison was created by seniors Chris Kistner, Chris McMillan, Jarrett Settles and Ethan Wilkins and focused on two of the students’ experiences with mental illness in their homes.
Settles interviewed Kistner and McMillan for the piece while Wilkins did the technical producing and polishing.
Their project was selected for an honorable mention by the NPR selection committee.
Ljungkull said she had a list of categories for the students to pick from, but this group came up with a topic of their own based on their personal experiences.
“When I heard their stories it was just heart-wrenching. I’ve done some producing and written plays so I kind of new what NPR would be looking for and one of those things was would they be moved by it,” Ljungkull said.
“We shared it with the other students and everyone was just blown away by what these boys had to experience.”
Kistner said talking about how mental health issues has impacted his family has gotten easier. He said now it isn’t’ an issue of who he’s talking to, he just hopes his conversations help other people.
“If it was like a couple years ago when it first happened it would have been difficult, but over the years, I’ve come to face it and let it out and hopefully if I can help people with what I went through,” Kistner said.
“But it’s still awfully hard to get out.”
Kistner had a brother who was diagnosed with bipolar disease and his family has had to navigate that path over the past several years. The link to the winning podcast is embedded and active below.
Kistner said he was surprised that Ljungkull wanted to submit their project.
“Honestly, yeah. We were just doing it as a project and she really liked it,” he said. “Then she said all the other classes listened to it and they liked it, so she said she was going to put it in the competition. When she showed us we were picked, I couldn’t believe it.”
Ljungkull said she had an idea the boys’ effort has a chance of winning.
“I was so pleased and so proud,” she said. “One of the ways to teach now is project-based learning. That is when you actually let the students teach themselves, and they truly excelled. It’s just wonderful tool for these kids.”
Settles said the best part of the whole project was learning about the other students’ personal stories.
The podcast has a chance of being played on NPR broadcasts, but only a handful of the students programs will be played, with the top award winners in each category getting air time.