(Image courtesy of Matthew Keefe / Flickr)
Pioneer High School

Giving Voices: How a student is connecting her community

Sophomore Rebecca Wang’s typical quarantine days used to be ordinary in routine: Waking up, going for a jog, having breakfast and fulfilling the dutiful wishes of Google Classroom.

Afterward, her schedule would be blank, absent of events and activities.

“I would have a lot of time just sitting and thinking,” Wang said. “And so I was like, ‘I definitely have to do something.’” 

But then she was also aware of how countless families and students were struggling with the economic and social effects of the pandemic, even in her own community of Ann Arbor, Mich.

Volunteers were actively taking part in food and technology distributions and the student council of her school, Pioneer High School, rolled out a virtual tutoring program for students who may be in need of academic help.

So why not use her time to contribute to her community as well?

Her project idea wasn’t immediate. Her father spewed several possibilities, but in the end, Wang chose to be original based on his encouragement with a podcast. 

It was one of the activities that she always had to set aside due to a lack of time, but time was something available to her now, and Wang’s next major step was now deciding on the concept — the basis of her project.

“I thought about getting [together] every week a group of friends because I know for a lot of podcasts it’s just like a group of hosts just talking about stuff,” she said as her original idea was more group-orientated and allowed for the free exercise of conversation. 

Yet, Wang wanted her podcast to be interactive, a platform for an open audience who can do more than just listening. She wanted to provide opportunities.

“I know a lot of kids are struggling with feeling overwhelmed with maybe family troubles, and feeling like they’re in this whole experience alone, so the only thing I’ve really wanted to gain was to help kids know they aren’t alone and that we’re all going through this together,” she said. 

She finalized her concept: each episode would feature a student, teacher or staff member from the Ann Arbor Public Schools district who would share their unique personal experiences in coping with the pandemic. 

And with the concept came the inspiration for the title of her podcast, “Staying Connected.”

While Wang admitted her podcast to Buzzsprout, a podcast service for beginners that verified her podcast on various listener applications, she further researched on how to make a cohesive podcast. To her relief, it turned out fancy gadgets weren’t necessary for a podcast. Everyday devices sufficed. 

“I actually record on my computer using GarageBand on a Mac,” she said with a chuckle. “The sound quality is actually pretty good.” 

When it came to selecting the guest of her first episode, Wang kept her spectrum open; she still does so with every episode. 

“I try to keep it diverse: different genders, from different schools, a few teachers here and there, so that’s how I normally base things unless someone emails me and says they want to be featured one week,” she said. “Recently, I’ve been trying to first focus on seniors, because I know that they’ve had a hard time having a shortened senior year, so they definitely have a lot to say.”

 Giving Voices: How a student is connecting her community
Wang edits an episode of her podcast through GarageBand. (Image courtesy of Rebecca Wang)

Of course, challenges were presented in the initial steps of recording as much of her time was veered towards preparation for Advanced Placement exams.

“I also had to base it off my featured student and what time they could get their part of the recording to me, so that kind of led to some inconsistencies at first,” Wang said. “But then I started telling the students, ‘This is when I need the recording by,’ and it started working out.”

The response to her podcast started out small, with close friends and family being her main supporters.

“I honestly didn’t have any super high expectations for my podcast,” she said.

After all, her podcast wasn’t for publicity but to offer an outlet for those who came across it.

Then gradually, her project started to gain traction. More listeners dropped in to listen, checking for new episodes every weekend and occasionally writing heartfelt reviews.

A renewed abundance of enthusiasm was present for possible guests. And with each additional episode, a fresh voice was released for the enlightenment, empathy, and energy for others.

One student voiced her thoughts on the Black Lives Matters movement. A teacher talked about how the pandemic confirmed that cooking may not be her mojo, while an internationally championed runner expressed the frustration and disappointment in the cancelation of her last school track season, especially as it was announced the night before national championships. 

Despite being the host whose main job is to speak, Wang frequently enjoys her podcast from an audience standpoint, as an attentive listener. Each story has its own morals and ideas.

“I’ve learned a ton,” Wang said. “I’ve really gotten to know all of my featured students a lot better: their hobbies and their experiences. I learned that even if you’re stuck at home, you can still do stuff. Even if it’s just new light hobbies, you can still find ways to enjoy yourself or accomplish things.”

Needless to say, the podcast harbors the voices of nuanced individuals with distinct, yet similar stories, each offering a new branch to a virtual network of community.

“My podcast started off, not as a big deal, with not many people listening,” Wang said. “But now, I think it’s definitely making an impact in the community. The people that are featured on my podcast, I think really enjoy talking with other students, sharing their thoughts. And for the people listening, just knowing what other people have experienced or what other people have learned, has helped them gain some knowledge on how to deal with the situation and also just know that other people are going through the same thing.”

In the case that the pandemic resides and school resumes normally, Wang hopes to continue her podcast ––just with a little change.

“I’ve been thinking maybe I could start a club of members where we make podcasts about high school life, and even then we can bring in special guests that students may be interested in listening to,” she said.

The concept of podcasting that allows the interaction with an audience even if they may not be physically present, has always been a fascination for Wang as the opportunity of allowing other students to share their thoughts is “rewarding” for her.

“I’ve really loved being able to talk with the student community and just making them every week. They’re actually really fun. I’d say it’s really not hard,” she said. “So, to anyone out there who wants to start a podcast. I say go for it. It seems overwhelming at first, but the ending results are really worth it.”

Listen to Wang’s podcast through various platforms such as Spotify and Apple Podcast through her Buzzsprout link.