When Christine Reynolds asked for permission to start a podcast to teach her third-grade students about real-world social studies applications, she had no idea the lesson would turn into an after-school club inspiring students of all levels of Henry Puffer Elementary School in Downer Grove.
The Henry Puffer podcast, which can be found on Spotify and other streaming services, features students in grade three and beyond working together to interview people they believe have important stories. The club has grown so much over the past year that Reynolds is applying for a grant that she hopes will fund the purchase of new equipment for students to use.
Reynolds said it was overwhelming and inspiring to give students a platform to have their own voice and conversations.
“I am moved to hear students talk about [the podcast] because you don’t know what you’re doing for someone until they tell you,” Reynolds said. “They’re growing so much, and watching them grow, it’s amazing.”
The youngest students involved in producing podcasts are 8 years old, and the students do everything from crafting questions to conducting interviews. When the podcast started, Reynolds modeled many skills for her students, but now she has older students who have participated since they were in her class and those students are teaching and leading others.
Sixth graders Grace Zellner and Matthew Dennison are among the older students working on the podcast.
“I love that we can learn and share each other’s stories,” Zellner said.
Dennison said the podcast inspired him to start a broadcast club because it allowed him to practice some of the same skills a broadcaster needs.
Fifth-year club members Lila Bethal and Kyle Rehrer said they enjoy talking with people in the community, with Bethal citing DuPage County Circuit Court Judge Ann Celine O’Halaren Walsh as having been her favorite person to interview. Bethal said the interview inspired her because she was able to speak with a female judge.
“I feel like I learned to ask questions, and I think it definitely improved my listening skills,” Rehrer said.
Claudia Rehrer and Jessica Zellner, the mothers of Kyle and Grace, respectively, said they were happy to see their children take an interest in an extracurricular activity, and they were impressed with how it developed. Claudia Rehrer said the podcast club was the first interest Kyle pursued in school, and she thinks it helped boost his confidence.
Both parents believe the club teaches valuable skills that their children will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Claudia Rehrer said it was impressive to see how organized the children were.
“They’re looking for people from all walks of life, and they’ve really let that flourish,” Jessica Zellner said. “The skills they gain from it will help them succeed in their future.”
Principal Britta Waszak said she was impressed with the students’ work and proud of Reynolds for giving Henry Puffer students the opportunity to be part of something like the podcast club. She said the skills students learn with Reynolds are ones that can’t always be taught without that kind of hands-on experience.
“I think it’s pretty amazing that our school can be searched globally through a podcast,” Waszak said.