School shootings, social media, beauty standards, and rapidly changing fashion trends can all change five times faster.
Adolescence is always challenging, but the acceleration of modern forces makes it more stressful than ever.Welcome, in the words of her two best friends from San Francisco, middle school winners of her NPR Student Podcast Challenge this year. middle school now.
In a classroom at Presidio Middle School, not far from the Golden Gate Bridge, 13-year-old Erica Young and Nora Weiner talk about the podcast. This is her one of two Grand Prix winners chosen by the jury from among her over 3,300 submissions from 48 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
The two friends just finished 7th grade, but they haven’t broken up yet and have been seeing each other every day since school closed. Nora showed up for the interview wearing boots borrowed from Erica for her special day. Their dizzying laughter echoes through an empty school, and the knowledge that they are leaving for summer camp together in a few days fuels their energy.
While this year’s high school winners tackled big local news stories with reports from students and educators, Erica and Nora dived into the more universal experience of the ups and downs of being a middle school student today. I worked on it.
“Gun violence, social media, and mental health are literally shaping middle school,” Erica said on the podcast.
They showcase listeners’ everyday lives, from school lockdowns to TikTok dancing in the bathroom, and how life in middle school is different today than when English teacher Jenny Cio was a student. I will explain.
“I went through it, and you guys go through it,” says Chio (pronounced chu), comparing her experience in her youth to that of students today. “The pressure is the same amount, but I think it’s just amplified.”
One of the judges’ favorite things about this podcast is how students weave national trends with what’s happening in their schools and communities. They interviewed classmates and teachers about heavy topics that unfortunately are also part of their daily lives.
Like lockdown training.
Harsh realities for middle school students and teachers
Erica and Nora say they’ve been doing lockdown training since they were in the lower grades of elementary school, but recently, an unknown incident happened nearby that led to more than just training at their junior high school. Although everyone was safe, the experience still made the girls think differently about their relationship to the school shooting.
“I can assure you that every sixth through eighth grader in our school has imagined themselves in a mass shooting,” Nora said in a podcast. “Will they run away? Will they hide?”
In interviews, classmates talked about what they would do if there was a mass shooting at school. “I would run home and call the police.” “Find somewhere to hide and stay there.” “If something bad happened, I would text my parents and tell them I love them.”
Chio, on the other hand, has no memory of taking full-scale shooting training in middle school or high school. The only emergency drills at the time focused on natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes. But she knows a lot about the recent lockdown.
Student journalists asked her to show her an emergency kit in her classroom, which contained a surprising ingredient. It was cat litter. Chio says if the lockdown lasts for a few hours, she could use it along with other toiletries to create a DIY bathroom.
TikTok as a middle school trendsetter
Luckily there is teeth Until middle school students than rock down. Will he be one force that rules both their virtual and face-to-face worlds?
“Now you walk to school and you literally see girls dancing around the building,” Nora said in the podcast. “The dance probably comes from TikTok, so it looks kind of weird.”
Erica added, “You can’t hear the music, so you can just see the kids moving their arms over their heads or just dancing. It looks like a jellyfish and it’s really funny.” added.
But TikTok’s influence goes beyond viral dancing. “Trends like baggy pants, cropped corset tops, curtain bangs, and ripped jeans all come from this app,” Erica said on the podcast.
These rapidly changing and pervasive trends have become an inevitable part of the middle school experience, especially since returning to the classroom after the pandemic.
“I’ve been to different states, and people there dress exactly the same as here, and they have kids the same age as me, which is really weird,” Erika says. “Because I thought that different places would have different popularity.”
Chio well remembers that feeling of trying and failing to keep up with fashion. She and her students bonded over a lost battle to be “cool” in middle school.
“I think it’s going to look bad no matter what I do, so maybe I should stick to what I’m doing now,” laughs Nora.
But luckily the friends can get through it with each other. And what they’re doing now, creating podcasts to amplify the voices of their classmates, is still pretty cool.
Click here to listen to Erica and Nora’s podcast.
Visual Design and Developer: LA Johnson
Audio Story Produced by Janet Wu-Jung Lee & Lauren Migaki
Audio and Digital Stories Editor: Steve Drummond