Our Middle School Winner From The NPR Student Podcast Challenge : NPR

Eighth graders Braeden Collett (left), Bo Porter, Brennan Williams and Dominique Jannat explored the “different things that get done behind the scenes” for their campus to include in their winning podcast “Whodunnit?” Arden Barnes hiding caption for NPR

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Eighth graders Braeden Collett (left), Bo Porter, Brennan Williams and Dominique Jannat explored the “different things that get done behind the scenes” for their campus to include in their winning podcast “Whodunnit?”

Arden Barnes for NPR

“How many people do you think look after our campus?”

A chorus of young voices shouts guesses from the Sayre School playground in Lexington, Ky.

“15? 50? 20?”

The independent pre-K-12 school has 10 buildings and approximately 500 students, so these assumptions, albeit high, are understandable. The truth: the school has five maintenance workers. And now the unsung heroes that make up these employees are the subject of a podcast that won the middle school grand prize NPR’s Student Podcast Challenge.

“Whodunnit?”
BY: Braeden Collett, Bo Porter, Brennan Williams, and Dominique Jannat, middle school winners
Sayre School, Lexington, Ky.

Many Sayre students don’t know much about this small but powerful maintenance crew, but eighth grade podcasters, Brennan Williams and Braeden Collett, see them all the time on the way to their school’s audiovisual classroom.

“The basement is the only quiet place on campus where we can actually record and not hear doors slam and everyone scream,” said her teacher, Brad Becker.

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Around the corner from Becker’s basement classroom – one floor below a large entrance hall with not one but two pianos and portraits of old school principals – is the light blue office of Steve Guynn and Robert Smith. From here they manage the buildings and grounds of the Sayre School.

Left: A framed photo of four maintenance and property personnel (from left) Charles Dreux, Lea Dunson, Steve Guynn, and Robert Smith in Guynn’s and Smith’s offices. Right: Steve Guynn, Sayre’s director of buildings and grounds, prepares a to-do list for the day at his desk. Arden Barnes hiding caption for NPR

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Arden Barnes for NPR

In the narrow basement studio, Brennan and Braeden listen to podcasts with Becker, who is himself a podcaster, and come up with ideas for stories. Most recently, they turned their microphones on to their neighbors – Guynn, Smith, and the building and property team.

Their decision paid off: The Youth Podcast knocked out over 2,000 entries to win the middle school grand prize in NPR’s third annual National Podcasting Contest.

(You can hear that High school winner and University winner on the Student Podcast Challenge Home page. And check out this year Recognitions while you’re at it!)

“I always hear my mom listening to NPR on the way to school,” Braeden said. “It really is – it’s just so crazy for me that we won.”

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This semester is their fourth or fifth in Becker’s class – they honestly can’t remember. At one point, the project-based elective became less of a class than a safe haven to experiment with audio, be creative, and study the work of other sound storytellers. Driven by a steady supply of snacks from a basket on the bookshelf (Ritz Bits, Rice Krispies Treats and … salad dressing?), The boys spent hours looking for sound effects, editing the interview tape and getting used to the sound of his voice for Braeden.

“I remember the first time I listened to my voice like I was sticking it into it [sound editing software]. And I thought, damn it, I sounded like 5 “, Braeden laughed.” I didn’t sound like that. “

Technical coordinator, podcast and video instructor Brad Becker (left) works with eighth grader Brennan Williams in the podcast room at Sayre School in Lexington, Ky. Arden Barnes for NPR subtitles

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Technical coordinator, podcast and video instructor Brad Becker (left) works with eighth grader Brennan Williams in the podcast room at Sayre School in Lexington, Ky.

Arden Barnes for NPR

When NPR visited the boys in Kentucky to congratulate them on their victory in the Student Podcast Challenge, we wanted to know why they chose to focus on Sayre’s building and property staff. The answer was just curiosity: Braeden and Brennan wanted to know more about their cellar neighbors.

“We just don’t even see them or we don’t know when they’ll be there. They’ll be extremely quiet so they don’t bother you, but they’re always there when you need them,” Brennan said.

It came as a surprise to Guynn and Smith when the boys asked to interview them.

“We’re not excited about the department. That’s exactly what we’re doing,” said Smith.

However, when Guynn and Smith started storytelling, it became clear how much they contribute to the school.

“We want all teachers and staff, and especially the children – as I call the babies – that everyone feels comfortable here when they come to this campus,” said Guynn.

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Guynn and Smith go out of their way to help students focus on learning. This includes tracking down the source of a mysterious smell that is polluting the building. Repairing leaks The 100 year old buildings can spring out. and even sleep in school to take care of campus during an ice storm.

“We had an ice storm here in 2003 that literally took us eight days,” said Guynn. “So I spent eight days with a chainsaw and felled trees for eight days. I lived on some tarps here in the gym.”

Steve Guynn, director of buildings and grounds for Sayre School, helps move materials for the school’s upcoming horse show. Arden Barnes hiding caption for NPR

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Steve Guynn, director of buildings and grounds for Sayre School, helps move materials for the school’s upcoming horse show.

Arden Barnes for NPR

Brennan and Braeden, together with their colleagues Bo Porter and Dominique Jannat, want to turn their podcast into a series. Next up are the cafeteria staff.

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