Clare Lombardo

This year, NPR held its first Student Podcast Challenge — a podcast contest for students in grades 5 through 12. As we listened to the almost 6,000 entries, we smiled, laughed, and even cried. Students opened their lives to us with stories about their families, their schools and communities and their hopes for the future.

In the tiny town of Erwin, Tenn., history is the elephant in the room.

At the Unicoi County Chamber of Commerce, Cathy Huskins remembers one particularly angry tourist "came barreling through the door, and came up to the counter here and slung her hands down. ... And she says, 'I cannot believe that you killed an elephant!' "

Librarian Angie Georgeff is used to the strange phone calls and unannounced visits from world travelers:

In the second-floor girls' restroom at Bronx Prep Middle School in New York, there's a sign taped to the back of the toilet stall doors. It's a guide on how to "properly dispose feminine products." On the list? "Make sure that no one views or handles product."

"It's not even saying the word pad. It just says product!" explains Kathaleen Restitullo, 13. "Just, like, don't let anyone see that you are on your period."

What happened to a circus elephant in the small East Tennessee town of Erwin a century ago, and what are the people there today doing about it?

And what do a group of middle school girls from the Bronx have to say about the stigma that surrounds talking about periods?

We asked teachers and students to put on their headphones and turn their ideas into sound for our first-ever NPR Student Podcast Challenge — and boy, did they. We got nearly 5,700 entries, from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Podcasts that explored climate change. Podcasts about gun control and mental health. About great books and mythology. Hedgehogs and history.

Teachers and their students at 1,580 schools participated: all told, roughly 25,000 students nationwide.

Pages