Image from Pikist and in the public domain
Social and emotional learning (SEL) is essential to students’ growth, well-being, and success, both academically and personally. CASEL defines SEL as learning to “understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” These stories feature the voices of people who are working to develop these important life skills in a variety of circumstances, from being teased in a school hallway to sitting in a prison cell to rowing across the frigid Drake Passage. Their reflections on the challenges and benefits of actively grappling with the everyday dilemmas of being human are heartening, illuminating, and inspiring.
Harry Potter is a popular series of fantasy novels written by British author J.K. Rowling. The novels chronicle the life of a young wizard as he makes his way through magical schooling, forming friendships and fighting supernatural enemies. The title character, Harry Potter, has a tremendous impact on the wizarding world. It turns out that the boy wizard may also have an effect on the real world. According to a recent study, reading Harry Potter books could influence readers’ empathy and attitudes. Listen to find out how J.K. Rowling’s work might make a real difference to readers.
Many of the characters in books written for children don’t reflect everyone’s background. One girl became frustrated when she couldn’t connect to the characters. In response, she began to gather books about black girls and then give these books to schools. Now that she has exceeded her original goal and collected almost 4,000 books, the girl has started to consider how to impact schools in an even larger way. Listen to hear what actions this girl decided to take to promote diverse books in schools.
The novel “Wonder” tells the story of a fifth grade boy with a facial deformity who enrolls in school for the very first time. In this audio story, the author, Raquel Jaramillo (a.k.a., R.J. Palacio) shares the incident that first prompted her to write the novel. She discusses how the boy, Auggie, struggles to feel ordinary in the face of extraordinary reactions. Listen to learn more about this novel and how the choices we make can have a lasting impact.
Two men imprisoned in Somalia began tapping messages to each other through a thick wall. One man had Leo Tolstoy’s novel “Anna Karenina”. Because they were forbidden to talk, one man tapped the story out on the wall, letter by letter, to the other man. The more the other man heard of the novel, the more he understood his own situation and feelings and ultimately, how to get through one of the most difficult experiences of his life. Listen to this story about how a book can inspire empathy and change your life.
One teen from a small Massachusetts town was a victim of bullying in high school. To fight back against bullying, she did something unexpected: she took to social media. In this audio story, she explains her experience with bullying, her anti-bullying efforts, and discusses the importance of empathy, even for the bully. Listen to learn more about the role social media plays in bullying and the compassion necessary to put a stop to bullying.
Natural disasters don’t just devastate our environment; they wreak havoc on our mental health as well. In 2005 Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans. Psychologist Jean Rhodes studied the long-term mental health effects and health outcomes of young women living in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. However, Rhodes discovered something interesting after looking at survivors years after the trauma: many women gained strength despite the hardships--a phenomenon called post-traumatic growth. Listen to learn more about Hurricane Katrina and its destruction as well as the merits of being strengthened by adversity.
Dystopian fiction is tremendously popular with young people all over the US right now. Books like "The Hunger Games" dominate bestseller lists for young people. But what is so appealing about this genre? This story features commentary from teens themselves and from scholars who study the subject. Listen to find out why this genre has such an impact on its audience.
In response to the popular, yet controversial Netflix show "13 Reasons Why," one school began sharing some personal stories from students struggling with suicidal thoughts. Instead of sharing the reasons why someone might make the choice to end their life, however, they shared messages of hope and positive influences on the lives of its students. Listen to hear those stories and how they impacted the students at the school.
Social media has an interesting effect on teenagers and the way they think. This study used social media and tested how teens responded to various photos online. Teens were shown an image that was deemed to have lots of "likes." The teens tended to like the image also. They found that teens responded strongly to the more popular pictures, regardless of which ones they were. Seeing popular pictures also produced greater activation in the reward centers of the brain. Listen to hear more about the effect of social media on the way teens think.
A recent viral video showed a young child asking for help solving a math problem from Alexa, an automated virtual assistant that searches the internet. Some worry that with such ready access to technology, kids will miss out on important learning gained through independent problem solving. Others feel that kids should be able to get assistance from technology in the same ways adults do. Listen to multiple perspectives on the issue represented in this story and then debate: Should students ask Alexa for homework help?
Michelle Obama, whose marriage to President Barack Obama brought her into the national spotlight, has written a memoir titled Becoming. In the book, she tells the story of her journey from childhood to the White House and beyond, sharing reflections on challenges she faced along the way and on how she has forged her identity over the course of her life. Listen to this story to hear some of Obama’s insights into her experience of becoming who she is today.
Millions of American children do not have a home. When families are not able to afford housing, some live in homeless shelters, but there are many hardships facing students in those circumstances. Listen to this interview with an Idaho teenager and his grandmother about their experience of homelessness, how it has affected them, and how they find support in handling their daily challenges.
Recent reports of serious lung illness resulting from vaping have scared many, but there are many other health risks that are not as obvious. Nicotine inhaled through vaping can damage the developing brain. It binds to receptors throughout the brain, disrupting areas controlling memory, learning, and alertness and puts teens at risk for long-term learning and attention problems. Nicotine is also addictive, especially in young brains, and teens drawn to vaping’s appealing flavors often find themselves unable to quit. Listen to hear a young woman describe her vaping-related illness and learn from experts about the many health risks of teen vaping.
The first person to ever cross the Antarctic alone decided to attempt another dangerous, icy expedition. Colin O’Brady wanted to row from South America to Antarctica with a team of daring travelers. Although he had never rowed before he decided to take this journey, he made sure to prepare himself both mentally and physically for the challenging trip. Listen to learn what motivated O’Brady to go on this thrilling expedition and find out what he needed to do to prepare for it.
Update: Since this story first aired, O’Brady’s team successfully completed the journey across the Drake Passage.
An interactive art installation with giant lights and booming loudspeakers is helping people communicate across the U.S.-Mexico border. Visitors to the exhibit on both sides of the border are invited to send searchlights into the sky and when they intersect, a conversation can begin. Americans and Mexicans are using the opportunity to chat, sing, and even celebrate birthdays together. Listen to hear visitors describe the effect of speaking to neighbors across a border wall and why the artist calls his creation a “bridge.”
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the lives of every American. As schools around the country have closed, students have faced enormous shifts in their routines, social lives, and in how they learn. In this audio story, students in elementary, middle, and high school reflect on their experiences during the pandemic. Listen to hear the voices of kids expressing fears, sharing coping strategies, and explaining what they have come to appreciate.
A new study finds that Latino youth face higher rates of depression than their black and white peers. The results reflect a range of problems Latinos in America are facing, including discrimination, violence, and for some, fear of deportation. Listen to hear a Latina teen explain how hateful words affect her and what she is doing to combat her sadness and anger.
A recent public opinion poll has found that the majority of Americans want the federal government to take strong measures to control the spread of COVID-19, including requiring people to wear masks in public. Infectious disease experts say that masks can slow the spread of the virus, and supporters of mandates say they are a necessary tool for controlling a highly contagious disease. Opponents argue that masks are unnecessary, and some say mask mandates violate their individual rights and restrict their freedom. Listen to hear more results from the poll and then debate: Should mask wearing be required by law?
A teen in India has become a celebrity after bicycling across the country carrying her dad. Fifteen-year-old Djoti made the trip when she and her father found themselves close to starvation and desperate to return to their home village. Djoti rode roughly 100 miles a day on a bicycle with no gears. Listen to hear the young athlete describe how she felt during the long journey, and learn how sports officials responded to her incredible feat.
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