Sequoia Carrillo

It's that time of year again! Power up your smartphones and build your pillow forts, because we're about to open NPR's Student Podcast Challenge.

Who do you think of when you picture someone with tattoos? The answer is different for everyone.

Julian Fausto and Eric Guadarrama built a whole podcast around the question, deciding to look at the pros and cons of getting tattoos in "Teens and Ink." Julian is a senior at J. Sterling Morton East High School in Cicero, Ill., and Eric is a junior at Steinmetz College Prep in Chicago.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

When Makiyah Hicks was young, her uncle, Jamal Hazel, was killed in her District Heights neighborhood in southwest Maryland. Her father lost a brother and her grandmother, Darlene Hazel, lost her youngest son.

Every year since, on her uncle's birthday, Makiyah and her family visit his grave.

Despite the traumatic loss, she says her family and community members mostly avoid conversations about gun violence.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Jamin Crow waited silently for the bull moose to turn and face him. In the cold, the teen stood in an open meadow, his gun resting on a branch. He waited and waited and waited.

Then the moose turned, and his brother started to yell, "Shoot!" If Crow didn't shoot, his brother would. So Crow took a deep breath and pulled the trigger.

"Your ears are ringing after the gunshot. And I look at my brother and he's giving me the happiest look I've ever seen," he says. "Everything is perfect at that moment ...You know you succeeded in what your goal is."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

"How many people do you think take care of our campus?"

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

"15? 50? 20?"

Kriti Sarav does her best work in a narrow bedroom closet. Wedged in among plastic storage bins full of spare sheets, blankets, and pillows, the 16-year-old podcaster sits at a small desk with a microphone and headphones.

"We got really lucky because when we moved into this house, they had this desk here," Kriti says. "I like it for podcasting now — and storage, obviously."

Sibling drama, identity crises — so much climate change — and of course: the challenges of school and life in the pandemic. This year NPR's Student Podcast Challenge has all those things, and more.

For the last few months, students all over the country have been doing what we do here at NPR — recording interviews, editing tape, creating home studios and reading their stories into a microphone. This year's contest brought us more than 2,600 podcasts from 47 states and the District of Columbia.

Every family has that story you've heard a thousand times. It's swapped at family reunions, over holidays or at birthday parties. Sometimes the edges change, or details get added, but the shape of the story is always there — that one persistent detail that always gets the reaction.

A story from Colorado College of a student grappling with finding her birth father OR an investigation from Penn State University into an amateur boxer's long-ago brush with The Greatest. How can you choose?

Well, we couldn't. After a judging process like no other, this year's Student Podcast Challenge: College Edition ended up with two grand-prize winners.

From quarantining in dorms to staring at the screen in online classes — it was a wild year to be a college student. And, it turns out, it was a good year for us to welcome college students for the first time to the NPR Student Podcast Challenge.

Today we're announcing our favorites! From podcasts submitted from college students across the country, we've narrowed the list down to 10 finalists. You can read and listen to the full list here.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

All this week, we are remembering some of the more than 500,000 people in the U.S. who've died of COVID-19 through the music that gave their lives meaning. We're calling our tribute Songs of Remembrance. Deb Kalish wanted to remember her partner, Paul Kleinheider of Chatham, N.J. He was hospitalized early in the pandemic, and once the hospital figured out how patients could connect to the outside world on Zoom, Deb called Paul that way several times a day and played him the songs he loved, especially "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel.

It's that time of year! New semester, new assignments, new Student Podcast Challenge. Yep, NPR's Student Podcast Challenge is back for its third year, and it opens today, Jan 1.

What does college sound like? For the past two years the NPR Student Podcast Challenge has been open to students in grades 5-12. We've heard podcasts about climate change and racism and what it's like to be young at this moment.

In Annapolis, Md., young men and women in crisp white uniforms and white masks are doing what students here have been doing for 175 years — taking their first steps to becoming officers in the U.S. Navy.

These exercises are a part of the traditional "plebe summer," an intensive crash course that prepares first-year students for the transition to military life. They learn how to salute and march as a unit, along with lots of new lingo: floors are called "decks," toilets are "heads," and the students are "midshipmen."

Peaceful, student-led protests have been a powerful force for change throughout American history.

In 1925, for example, students at Fisk University staged a 10-week protest to speak out against the school's president, who didn't want students starting a chapter of the N.A.A.C.P. In 1940, almost 2,000 students protested after New York University decided to pull a black player from its football roster to accommodate the University of Missouri's segregationists.

And campus-based protests, including against racism, were a major lever of social change in the 1960s.

First, the end:

"Please be kind to one another. That's all for today."

So closes the middle-school top-prize winner of NPR's Student Podcast Challenge. World, meet The Dragon Kids.

Among the many losses this school year was the chance for students to shine on stage in the classic end-of-the-year theater production. Yet teachers and students across the country turned misfortune into opportunity, creating memorable plays and performances that will live on — online.

For many student performers, there was that one week, back in March, where everything shifted. One moment everyone was at school, going to class and hanging out with friends ... and then suddenly they were at home, social-distancing and trying to figure out online learning.

Sixth-graders who used the power of two languages — Mandarin and English — to express how Asian students in their city suffered during the early days of the coronavirus.

And high school seniors who looked at inequality — and the activism that seeks to change it — to demand they be heard in the fight against climate change.

Meet the grand prize winners of the 2020 NPR Student Podcast Challenge!

Coronavirus, homework, sports, climate change: Working in the midst of a nationwide school shutdown, high school and middle school students around the country took on these and many more topics in this year's NPR Student Podcast Challenge.

After two deadline extensions and a lot of creative solutions to the challenges of recording from their homes, we received more than 2,000 podcasts from 46 states and the District of Columbia.

Spring semester was off to a pretty normal start at Rolling Meadows High School. The school, in a northwest suburb of Chicago, was gearing up for the goodbye rituals of every spring semester: senior prom, end-of-year exams and graduation.

Caitlyn Walsh, the school's music teacher, was looking forward to the big choir concert and the spring musical. "From the fine arts scene we have a lot of end-of-year activities that are very cherished," she says.