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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

West Side High Schoolers Launch Podcast To Stay Connected, Informed During COVID-19 CPS Shutdown

Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School students in Austin found a way to share tips on coping with social isolation from their peers and teachers.

Student at Michele Clark working at the school's media center.
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AUSTIN — A new podcast started by West Side high schoolers aims to connect — and inform —Chicago Public Schools students stuck at home during the COVID-19 crisis.

As the public health crisis escalated last week, students at Michele Clark Academic Prep Magnet High School, 5101 W. Harrison St., decided to produce a podcast focused on keeping students connected and managing their stress during these uncertain times.

“I’m really excited because it is student-led,” said Principal Charles Anderson. “What was great about it is that it was students having conversations with each other, coming from their peers, which would be really powerful.”

The production came together quickly — just days before the district was shut down by Gov. JB Pritzker.

The podcast currently has four 10-minute episodes featuring students talking frankly about how they plan to deal with the social isolation and about how their lives have been impacted so far.

“This time out of school, I could spend it with my family,” said sophomore Elijah on the podcast. “Do a lot of family work together so ‘ll take our mind off the virus or whatever. And do a lot of school work too.”

Episodes of the series also included conversations with counselors, social workers, teachers and parents about their reactions to the school shutdown. Teachers talked about how they would help keep their students on track by putting assignments online and giving writing prompts for students to do each day. A key concern for some of the teachers was that the break from school would deprive young people of much-needed structure and routine in their lives.

“Please try and keep some type of schedule,” said teacher Melissa Hughes. “I know not everybody is going to bed at 9 p.m. and waking up at 6 a.m. But try and keep some type of schedule because when you come back, it’s going to be hard… to readjust.”

Since the pandemic has caused major disruptions in the lives of students and has sparked economic hardship and instability among many families, one episode of the podcast is devoted to helping young people maintain their mental health and process their emotions. The episode on mindfulness meditation featured the school’s social worker Amy Philips.

“The temptation could be there to just use that time in ways that wouldn’t necessarily be the most productive for taking care of our brains and our mental health,” Phillips said.

Phillips suggested that rather than just waiting for school to start again, students could use the extra free time as an opportunity to do the important internal work of paying closer attention to their thoughts and feelings.

One exercise that Phillips recommended involved just looking out the window and mindfully noticing all the different things that can be observed. Phillips said this activity helps young people to be present in their bodies and reflect on how their bodies experience different senses like sight and sound. With the coronavirus triggering widespread anxiety among people, Phillips said it is important to do activities that slow the mind down and help with relaxation.

The series is available on Anderson’s YouTube channel here.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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