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Current Events

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December 18, 2020

4:55

Debate: Are Religious Freedom and Public Safety in Conflict?

The U.S. Supreme Court has declared certain rules restricting religious gatherings unfair. Some states, including California and New York, had strictly limited the number of people allowed to gather in places of worship during the pandemic. The states said the rules were meant to protect public health, since large indoor gatherings can trigger viral outbreaks. But the Supreme Court decided that these limitations were too strict and unfairly limited freedom to assemble and worship, a right protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Listen to learn more about the Supreme Court’s recent ruling and then debate: Are religious freedom and public safety in conflict?

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December 17, 2020

4:43

School Sports During the Pandemic

The cancellation of school sports during the pandemic has had a big impact on students. Without structured sports activities, many kids lose the opportunity to exercise, socialize, and develop teamwork skills. For some students, the loss of school sports may even dash their hopes of attending college. Listen to hear high school athletes explain the importance of sports in their lives, and learn why many students may not return to sports after the pandemic ends.

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December 16, 2020

2:16

Water on the Moon

Robots sent into space have discovered water in a sunny spot on the moon. The finding has surprised scientists who, until now, only knew about moon water buried in dark corners, away from the sun. The discovery has raised many questions, including how the water might be used by future visitors to the moon. Listen to learn more about an exciting new space discovery and how it could change future moon missions.

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December 15, 2020

2:38

Rhode Island Changes Its Name

The state of Rhode Island is getting a name change. From its founding in 1643, the state’s official name has been Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Recently, though, voters elected to remove “and Providence Plantations.” The word “plantation” is commonly associated with large farms in the South worked by enslaved people before the Civil War, and the reference in the state’s name offended many people. Listen to learn more about the significance of the word “plantation,” and hear an indigenous resident explain what the name change means to her.

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December 14, 2020

5:27

The Concession Speech Tradition

There is a long tradition of US presidential candidates delivering a concession speech when they lose an election. A concession speech gives the losing candidate a chance to publicly acknowledge their loss and offer congratulations to the winner. Hearing a concession speech helps all Americans, including the candidate’s supporters, accept the newly-elected leader and feel reassured that a peaceful transfer of power will occur. This year, President Trump has refused to concede, breaking with long tradition. Listen to hear parts of presidential concession speeches from the past few decades, and learn why one candidate conceded the election twice.

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December 13, 2020

0:28

Weird News: Aquarium Cashes in on Wishes

Listen to hear how an aquarium is paying its bills in an unusual way.

Note: Since this story aired, the aquarium shared that it spent $8563.71 in wishes on animal care.

Vocabulary: reveal, cash in

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December 11, 2020

2:39

Debate: Should Theme Parks Reopen?

Theme parks throughout the country closed soon after the pandemic hit, although some have since reopened. To control outbreaks of infection, reopened parks have limited the number of visitors and imposed strict rules, including mandatory mask wearing. Many people lost their jobs when parks closed, and the reopenings have put some back to work. California public health officials have decided that theme parks like Disneyland should not reopen until the risk of COVID-19 spread in the surrounding community is lower. Listen to hear from people for and against theme park reopenings and then debate: Should theme parks reopen?

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December 10, 2020

2:29

Jelly Donuts for Hanukkah

Jelly donuts are traditionally eaten to celebrate the holiday of Hanukkah, but even many Jews are not sure why. The holiday began in ancient times, when a miracle was declared after a small amount of oil burned for eight days. Eating foods fried in oil, such as donuts, reminds Jews of the miracle. But why the jelly? Listen to hear the story behind jelly donuts and how they became a traditional Hanukkah food.

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December 9, 2020

4:45

Free Food Refrigerators Feed Communities

The number of Americans who do not have enough food has increased dramatically during the pandemic. To address this problem of food insecurity, groups across the country are putting refrigerators filled with free food in public places and inviting people to take what they need. The “freedges” are feeding thousands of people, many of whom had never visited a food bank. Listen to hear more about a grassroots effort to feed hungry Americans, and learn why one activist worries about the sustainability of the movement.

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December 8, 2020

2:17

Deaf Community Considers Signs for New Leaders

The deaf community is considering how to say “Joe Biden” and “Kamala Harris” in sign language. Each of the country’s newly elected leaders has distinct characteristics, such as wavy hair or trademark sunglasses, that might translate into a sign. With the help of technology, the process of choosing new signs has become more inclusive, increasing the likelihood that they will be culturally sensitive. Listen to hear more about how new signs are chosen, and learn which ones are being considered for Biden and Harris.

Update: Since this story aired, the deaf community has agreed to use a name sign for Vice President Kamala Harris signifying a lotus, which is the meaning of her first name. A name sign has not yet been adopted for President Joe Biden, so fingerspelling is being used to represent him.

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December 7, 2020

3:23

Anniversary of Pearl Harbor

On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces bombed a U.S. military base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The surprise attack killed more than 2,400 people and damaged the entire fleet of U.S. battleships docked in the harbor. The event drew America into World War II, which lasted until 1945. Listen to hear one of the few remaining survivors of the attack recall the day of the bombing, and learn why he chose not to return to Pearl Harbor to commemorate the event.

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December 6, 2020

0:28

Weird News: Farmer Invites Neighbor to Solve a Mystery

Listen to hear about a farmer who invited his neighbors to help solve a mystery.

Vocabulary: ornate, speculation

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December 4, 2020

3:56

Debate: Should Broadband Access Be a Universal Right?

Americans living in rural areas often have little or no access to high-speed internet, also called broadband. Broadband is used for many everyday activities and essential tasks, including remote learning. Some argue that access to broadband is a basic need, and the government should supply it to every American household, just as it provides access to electricity and clean water. Ensuring that broadband reaches the remotest corners of the country would require a major investment of time, effort, and money, competing with other funding priorities. Listen to people from rural areas describe the challenges of remote learning without broadband, and then debate: Should broadband access be a universal right?

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December 3, 2020

5:22

Pronouns for All

“He” and “she” are useful pronouns for referring to people in many situations, but they are not suited for every occasion. Multiple options are now available as the English language continues to evolve, including the singular “they.” Experts say the search for gender-neutral pronouns dates back hundreds of years, when people wanted an inclusive pronoun to refer to gender-neutral nouns such as “person” or “writer.” Listen to learn more about the history of gender-neutral pronouns and hear a language expert’s views on choosing which to use.

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December 2, 2020

1:35

Following 10,000-Year-Old Footsteps

Archaeologists, who study prehistoric sites for clues to the past, made an exciting new discovery in New Mexico’s White Sands National Park. They found tracks of humans and animals left around 10,000 years ago. The scientists say the prints show activity around a puddle among children, adults, and giant prehistoric creatures. Listen to hear more about the story told by these ancient footprints, and learn why scientists are especially excited by the finding.

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December 1, 2020

2:42

12-Year-Old College Student Loves Space

A 12-year-old student from Georgia is enrolled in college with dreams of becoming an aerospace engineer. Caleb Anderson was an exceptionally smart baby, according to his parents. They recognized his gifts and supported him as he advanced quickly through school, outpacing his peers. Caleb’s unusual journey was not always smooth, though. Listen to hear how Caleb felt as the youngest kid in his 7th grade class, and learn why Caleb’s dad believes his son’s story can inspire other Black boys.

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November 30, 2020

4:04

Why Vaccines Need to Be Frozen

Two American pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Moderna, have developed vaccines that have been shown in trials to offer safe and effective protection against COVID-19. Now, the country needs to develop a coordinated plan for distributing them. The vaccines from both companies must be kept cold – one at temperatures colder than winter in Antarctica – which has implications for how they are shipped and distributed. Listen to learn how the vaccines will be kept cold as they move around the country and how state coordinators are deciding where each of the vaccines might work best.

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November 29, 2020

0:26

Weird News: Separated Brothers Find Each Other

Listen to hear about two long-lost siblings who were finally reunited.

Vocabulary: decades, reunion

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November 25, 2020

2:06

Rescue Jet Suit

When mountain hikers get in trouble, it can take time for first responders to reach them. With jet suits, however, paramedics can fly to the rescue, arriving in just seconds and potentially saving lives. People wearing jet suits have a jet engine and turbines strapped to their bodies that lift them into the air. Listen to hear the inventor of jet suits describe how it feels to fly, and learn how one company tested the new technology to see how well it worked.

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November 24, 2020

3:55

Kamala Harris Inspires Youth

As the first woman, who is also biracial, to be elected vice president, Kamala Harris is an inspiration to young people around the country. Girls and young people of color, in particular, see her as a role model, and many have attended campaign events to catch a glimpse of her in person. Harris has used those opportunities to encourage girls to become leaders and imagine new roles for themselves. Listen to hear girls who admire Kamala Harris describe the impact she has had on them, and hear her own words of advice to young people.

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November 23, 2020

7:15

COVID-19 Advisory Board Looks Ahead

President-elect Joe Biden has formed a scientific advisory board to support the nation’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.This audio story features an interview with a prominent medical expert on the board, Dr. Atul Gawande, who outlines the major challenges facing the country as Americans plan for holidays in the midst of surging infection rates. He also looks ahead, speculating on the future of the virus and vaccines that can help to stop its spread. Listen to hear more about next steps in the battle against COVID-19 and how to stay safe – and keep others safe – during the holidays.

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November 22, 2020

0:28

Weird News: Alligator Floatie Scares Florida Couple

Listen to hear about a Florida couple who were spooked by an alligator in their shed.

Vocabulary: wrangled, deputy, predator, deflated

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November 20, 2020

6:58

Debate: Is the Constitution Outdated?

The U.S. Constitution, written over 200 years ago, established the structure of the new government, the basic laws of the land, and the rights of citizens. At the time, the institution of slavery still existed, and only white men had the right to vote. It might be argued that the document needs to be rewritten to better serve and reflect today’s diverse American society. It could also be argued that the Constitution is a living document that can be adapted to changing circumstances through amendments and flexible interpretation. Listen to learn about a play that explores the relevance of the Constitution and then debate: Is the Constitution outdated?

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November 19, 2020

4:37

Barbershop Therapy

African Americans have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, and many are feeling extra stress. Barbershops in African American communities have long been hubs of communication and camaraderie. A program called the “Confess Project” is aiding barbers who serve these communities in counseling their customers, offering helpful emotional support as well as a haircut. The program aims to offer African American men, in particular, a safe space to share their feelings and get advice. Listen to hear a participating barber explain what attracted him to the program and how his work improves his clients’ mental health.

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November 18, 2020

3:51

Scientific Discovery Announced in Blackfoot

After 100 years of searching, scientists in Washington state have detected gravitational waves, vibrations in space caused by the collision of black holes. The historic news was translated into dozens of languages so people around the world could share in the celebration, including Blackfoot, an endangered language spoken by a local indigenous tribe. Listen to learn why scientists decided to announce their discovery in a native language, hear how it sounds, and learn why the gesture held special meaning for the Blackfoot community.

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November 17, 2020

2:32

Pope Endorses LGBTQ Civil Unions

In a recently released documentary, Pope Francis said he approved of civil unions for homosexual couples. A civil union is a legal partnership arrangement, like a marriage, granted by state authorities. The pope’s supportive words gave hope to the LGBTQ community, which has often felt excluded by the church. It also caused confusion, however, since his statement conflicts with official church policy. Listen to learn more about the pope’s unexpected announcement, and hear how Catholics have responded.

Update: Since this story aired, the Vatican issued a statement instructing Catholic priests not to offer blessings for same-sex couples.

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November 16, 2020

3:59

COVID-19 Vaccine Trials Look Promising

Researchers have announced that an important COVID-19 vaccine trial is showing promising results. Interim results for the phase III trial, which tests the vaccine’s safety and efficacy among thousands of participants, indicate that the vaccine is working to prevent COVID-19. While it will still be some time before a vaccine is widely available, the development process is going much faster than usual. Listen to learn about how the study was designed, what results are showing so far, and what the next steps are in moving toward widespread vaccine administration.

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November 15, 2020

0:28

Weird News: Swimming while Juggling: Swuggling!

Listen to hear how a man in Oregon is taking multitasking to a whole new level.

Vocabulary: multitasking, figurative

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November 13, 2020

4:29

Debate: Does Google Have an Unfair Monopoly on Internet Searching?

The U.S. Department of Justice recently filed a lawsuit against Google, claiming that the company has abused its power in dominating online searches. The lawsuit accuses the technology giant of striking unfair deals and blocking competitors, leaving consumers with few choices of search engines. Google has denied crushing the competition and says their customers are freely choosing the product they like best. Listen to learn more about the antitrust lawsuit against Google and then debate: Does Google have an unfair monopoly on internet searching?

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November 12, 2020

4:55

Student Reflects on School During the Pandemic

The pandemic has forced many schools around the country to educate students virtually. In this story, a student representative from a large public school district in Virginia talks about the impact of virtual learning on teens. He explains how long hours spent on a computer affect him and his peers, and why his classmates have varying opinions about returning to school in person. Listen to hear one high school student reflect on how the pandemic is affecting his senior year and what is on his mind as he looks ahead.

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November 10, 2020

5:00

Trump Refuses to Concede the Election

President Trump and many of his supporters refuse to accept the results of a close 2020 election, in which Joe Biden won more than the 270 electoral votes required to become the next president. Trump and his backers continue to claim fraud, though there is no evidence to support those claims. They distrust the media, who called the race for Biden based on official vote counts from each state. They also express concerns about the security of mail-in voting, but there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Listen to hear how some Trump supporters are feeling in the wake of a deeply divisive election.

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November 9, 2020

5:33

Joe Biden Elected 46th U.S. President

After a long week of vote counting in a tight race, Joe Biden has been elected 46th president of the United States. Biden has run for president several times, starting in 1987, and has served as U.S. Senator and Vice President under President Barack Obama. Biden has suffered many significant losses, both personal and professional, throughout his life, but he says he has never lost faith in the American people. Listen to hear about his journey to the presidency and how his victory speech to a divided country addressed themes of unity and optimism amid challenging times for the nation.

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November 8, 2020

0:28

Weird News: Teaching Litterbugs a Lesson

Listen to hear how a park in Thailand is sending a message to people who litter.

Vocabulary: authorities, revenge

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November 6, 2020

4:42

Debate: Should the News Media Rely on Election Polls?

Many Americans rely on polls to predict the outcome of elections. Polls ask large numbers of voters how they plan to vote, and news media outlets often report on those findings. However, many such polls did not accurately predict 2020 election outcomes, and people are wondering why. Some say that polling has become less reliable, and the media’s use of them can be misleading. Others say that polls can still help to inform us, and that without them, we would be in the dark. Listen to hear more about election polling and then debate: Should the news media rely on election polls?

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November 5, 2020

5:51

Social Media Influencer Comforts Viewers During Pandemic

Many people feel stressed as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage, and some are turning to Tabitha Brown for comfort. Brown is a TikTok personality who posts cooking videos accompanied by words of love and encouragement. Her soothing presence has attracted millions of followers, including many young people. Listen to Tabitha Brown explain how she got started on TikTok and the responsibility she feels to her teen audience.

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November 4, 2020

2:22

Laughter Signals Friendship

People can generally tell if other people are friends when they overhear them laughing together. That’s what a scientist found several years ago. Recently, he performed a new experiment, this time to find out if people can understand other people’s relationships by overhearing their conversations. His goal was to study the signals that laughter and speech send to other people. Listen to learn more about the study and what it reveals about the role of laughter in human evolution.

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November 3, 2020

4:15

Testing COVID-19 Vaccines on Humans

In the race to create a vaccine against COVID-19, several drug companies have moved into the final stages of development, which involves human testing. Thousands of Americans have volunteered to receive trial vaccines to help test their safety and effectiveness. The FDA has promised to fast-track the approval process for drugs deemed safe, although some Americans worry about the limitations of the accelerated timeline, including questions about the duration of immunization. Listen to hear a vaccine trial volunteer describe her experience, and learn how one COVID-19 drug works to fight the infection.

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November 2, 2020

3:49

Senate Confirms Amy Coney Barrett as Supreme Court Justice

The Senate voted to confirm Amy Coney Barrett as a justice of the US Supreme Court. Barrett fills the seat vacated by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died in September. Democrats objected to the timing of the vote, which took place a week before the 2020 election, and senators voted almost entirely along party lines. Barrett’s confirmation gives the Supreme Court a 6-3 conservative majority. Listen to hear Republican and Democratic leaders react to the confirmation process, and learn how the pandemic affected the proceedings.

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November 1, 2020

0:28

Weird News: Monkey Selfies

Listen to hear about a monkey who took selfies on a stolen phone.

Vocabulary: mischievous, culprit

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October 30, 2020

6:33

Debate: Should School Buildings Be Open?

When the coronavirus pandemic hit, schools closed around the country in an effort to slow community spread of the disease. A new study, though, concludes that schools do not seem to be superspreader sites where infection spreads rapidly and dramatically. Based on data from Texas, it appears that schools tend to reflect community infection rates. While anxiety remains high among some about the potential for COVID-19 to spread in schools, evidence suggests that when the virus does enter a school, it can usually be contained if public health recommendations are being followed. Listen to the author explain the implications of her study and then debate: Should school buildings be open?

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