The high school years can be daunting, exciting, confusing and thrilling; to some students, they are the best of times, and to others, they are some of the worst.
What better way to capture the feelings and opinions of 21st-century high school students than through a podcast?
Jeffrey Gallup is out to record high school’s highs and lows as the instructor of the new podcast class at Ocoee High School.
“The high school experience is something that everyone goes through,” he said. “Any stories we could tell that high school kids could relate to ... it's the common denominator. I thought we could make a show based on what goes on in high school life and that's broad enough that we could create content.”
Gallup’s role is to guide the students and their discussions during the recording process. They aren’t afraid of controversy, but Gallup asks the students to keep in mind one thing: Talk the way you would if Dr. Barbara Jenkins, superintendent of Orange County Public Schools, were listening.
On a recent morning, the class of nine, which meets in a small corner studio in the media center, was discussing conspiracy theories. Gallup threw out questions and shared his thoughts, but it was up to the students to keep the conversation rolling.
Their talks went from UFOs, mermaids, Pizzagate and voodoo to 9/11, financier Jeffrey Epstein’s suspicious death, the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting and President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
One upcoming show will focus on the LGBTQ community.
The class currently is in production for its first show. The students rotate jobs so everyone learns every station. There are producers, editors, engineers, reporters, a promotions director; Gallup serves as the executive producer, facilitating as much as the students want to accomplish.
“The goal is to produce a professional quality podcast about high school life,” Gallup said. “Once we are up and running, we hope to post at least one show per week.”
Gallup said he grew up listening to the radio and dreamed of becoming a radio personality. Then the podcast — basically recorded radio — was created. A fan of NPR’s “This American Life” podcast series, Gallup worked on an idea for two years before coming up with the high school version.
With a $2,000 grant from the Voya Financial investment company, Gallup purchased equipment, set up his studio and recruited interested students.
“I've got really good students,” he said. “I have three in here, one in particular, who could go into the professional business tomorrow. I've been really lucky with the students I have in here.”
That includes students such as Zachary Ringer, one of the podcast producers, who is seeking a career in journalism.
“I want to expand to as many outlets as I can to get my name out there,” Zachary said. “Any way I can get into journalism.”
Cleveland Payne and Jahmell Blaise took the class because it was unique. Cleveland didn’t know what a podcast was; Jahmell likes the idea of walking up to the microphone and talking about different subjects.
Conspiracy theories and stereotypes have been two of Jonathan Ramjattan’s favorite podcasts because of the quality discussions he and fellow classmates recorded. He said he registered for the class to work on his stuttering.
For Jacob Smith, being part of this class will help him in his dream of becoming a meteorologist, he said.
Gallup said students have told him it’s their favorite class of the day.
“It’s been a positive experience for me, and for them, too,” he said.
The class has recorded enough content for two shows on topics such as politics, school safety, social media, music and food. The initial idea was to interview random students, but this is being expanded to include athletes and teachers. WFTV meteorologist Tom Terry has agreed to join a podcast.
When the podcasts are ready, they will be available on the website highschoolstories.net.
Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.